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How Federal “Habeas” Relief Can Affect Your Florida Criminal Trial


Most criminal cases are heard in state court. This means that if you are tried and convicted of a crime in a Florida state trial court, your only avenue for appeal is normally through the state’s appellate courts. It is possible to seek what is known as habeas relief from a federal court, but the process is quite complicated and requires defendants to jump through a number of legal hoops.

In formal terms, a person can ask a federal court to issue a writ of habeas corpus, which in the context of a post-conviction matter usually means the defendant alleges some violation of their constitutional rights during the state court proceeding. Federal law normally requires a defendant to “exhaust” all of their potential appeals in state court before seeking federal habeas relief. This means you cannot raise a constitutional issue in federal court before first raising it in state court.

Federal Court Denies Relief for Defendant Facing Trial Delays Due to COVID-19

Unfortunately, many criminal defendants–particularly those who represent themselves–do not appreciate this requirement. Take this recent decision from the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, Johnson v. State. In this federal habeas appeal, the defendant argued the State of Florida violated his constitutional right to a speedy trial.

Florida prosecutors charged the defendant with assorted drug and weapons offenses. Representing himself, the defendant filed a speedy trial demand. As it turned out, this occurred just as the COVID-19 pandemic began. In response to the pandemic, the Florida Supreme Court issued an administrative order temporarily suspending the state’s “speedy trial” rules.

The defendant’s state criminal case remains pending. When the defendant filed his most recent speedy trial demand, however, he also initiated a habeas petition in federal court, alleging the state courts violated his Sixth Amendment right under the United States Constitution to a speedy trial.

A federal judge defended the habeas petition and the 11th Circuit affirmed. The Court of Appeals said the defendant had “failed to exhaust” his potential state court remedies before seeking federal relief. The problem was that the defendant, who was still representing himself, never raised his Sixth Amendment arguments before the state courts. He only addressed the alleged violations of Florida’s speedy trial rule.

The 11th Circuit added that it also could not grant the defendant relief because under United States Supreme Court precedent, federal courts must generally abstain from interfering with “ongoing state criminal proceedings.”

Speak with Florida Criminal Defense Attorney Jose Baez Today

When you are on trial and facing prison, you understandably want to pursue any argument that might be available for your defense. But you also need to be smart about it. Representing yourself is unlikely to produce a favorable outcome. Your chances are much better if you work with an experienced Orlando drug crimes lawyer. Contact the Baez Law Firm today to schedule a free consultation with a member of our criminal defense team.


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