Newly Released Empirical Study of Habeas Litigation in U.S. District Courts

Final Technical Report: Habeas Litigation in U.S. District Courts: An Empirical Study of Habeas Corpus Cases Filed by State Prisoners Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 by Nancy J. King, the Lee S. & Charles A. Speir Professor of Law at Vanderbilt University Law School, and Fred L. Cheesman and Brian J. Ostrom of the National Center for State Courts is now available.

From the introduction:

The writ of habeas corpus is a remedy available in federal court to persons “in custody in violation of the Constitution . . . .” The 1996 amendments to the habeas statute were intended to reduce delays and to promote the finality of criminal convictions and sentences, particularly in capital cases. Each year, state prisoners file more than 18,000 cases seeking habeas corpus relief. This constitutes about 1 out of every 14 civil cases filed in U.S. District Courts. The study is the first to collect empirical information about this litigation, a decade after AEDPA was passed.

Among the study’s findings: since the AEDPA was passed,

• Non-capital cases
– take longer to reach federal court after state judgment; and,
– include more claims per petition.
•Capital cases include fewer evidentiary hearings in district court.
•Both capital and non-capital cases
– take longer to complete in district court; and,
– are less likely to end in a grant of the writ.

Scroll to Top