30 N. Ky. L. Rev. 505 (2003)
Using Corum Nobis to Attack Wrongful Convictions: A New Look at an Ancient Writ

handle is hein.journals/nkenlr30 and id is 515 raw text is: USING CORAM NOBIS TO ATTACK WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS:
A NEW LOOK AT AN ANCIENT WRIT
by Daniel F. Piar*
I. INTRODUCTION
Coram nobis is an ancient common-law writ that provides a means of
collateral attack in criminal cases where some event outside the trial record has
rendered a conviction fundamentally flawed.' The writ has historically been used
both in England and in the United States to provide a judicial remedy of last
resort to the wrongfully convicted when other modes of appeal or collateral
attack are unavailable.2 The writ survives in American federal and state practice,
though it has met with varying fates in varying jurisdictions.3 In the federal
courts and in some states, the writ continues to be available in a more expansive
way than at common law, with the goal of affording justice where extreme
judicial measures are necessary.4 In other states, the writ has survived in name,
but its scope and availability have been curtailed from what they were at
common law.5 Finally, in a large number of states, coram nobis has been
displaced by modem statutory procedures for post-conviction relief.6 Some of
the states that have abolished the writ in form have nonetheless preserved it in
spirit by ensuring that their post-conviction schemes include remedies equivalent
to those historically offered by coram nobis.7 There are other states, however, in
which the absence or restriction of coram nobis relief can cause certain cases to
fall into a procedural void, in which there may be no mechanism available for
attacking an allegedly wrongful conviction.8 Such situations, I shall argue, are
inconsistent both with the writ as historically understood and with the concepts of
fair play and substantial justice that should inform our procedures for post-
conviction relief.9
In all of these jurisdictions, an understanding of coram nobis can inform
modem criminal procedure by focusing attention on the need for accessible
emergency relief in cases involving fundamentally flawed convictions.'0 Thus,
the words of one commentator nearly a century ago continue to hold true:
Bench and bar may properly regard this ancient writ not merely as a relic of
Associate Professor of Law, John Marshall Law School, Atlanta; J.D., Yale Law School, 1994.
See, e.g., Andrew J. Schatkin, Criminal Procedure, 46 SYRACUSE L. REv. 405, 482 n.485 (1995)
(defining writ of coram nobis).
See infra Part II. See also Michelle L. Curley, The Common Law Writ of Error Coram Nobis
Remains Available as a Civil Procedure to Challenge Collaterally a Criminal Judgment, 59 MD. L.
REV. 767, 770-72 (2000) (explaining English and American uses of writ).
' See id. at 770.
4 See infra Part Ill.
'See infra Part IV.A.
6 See infra Part IV.B.
7id.
8Id.
' See infra Part V.
1 Id.

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