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Order to Show Cause

What Is an Order to Show Cause?

An order to show cause is a court order directing a party to explain, justify or prove something. Orders to show cause are used throughout the legal system; however, in the habeas corpus context, they are typically directed toward the district attorney and ask why a judge should not grant the habeas corpus petitioner the relief they seek.

California Rules of Court Rule 4.545 offers some additional clarity, which provides, "[t]he order to show cause is issued if the petitioner has made a prima facie showing that he or she is entitled to relief; it does not grant the relief requested. An order to show cause may also be referred to as 'granting the writ.'"

When Do Courts Issue an Order to Show Cause in a Habeas Corpus Proceeding

Under Rule 4.545, a court will issue an order to show cause if a habeas corpus petitioner establishes a prima facie case that they are entitled to the relief they seek. A habeas petitioner proves a prima facie case if they present evidence that, if assumed to be true, would entitle them to relief. In other words, at this stage, factual disputes regarding the accuracy of the claims contained in the petition are irrelevant.

However, courts review more than just the merits of a petitioner's claim when assessing whether a prima facie case has been made—they also review the petition to ensure it is timely, not successive, and properly before the court. In fact, because of the extremely strict filing requirements of a habeas corpus petition in California, this is where most petitioners face the biggest challenge.

The Procedure Surrounding an Order to Show Cause

The first step in a habeas corpus proceeding is an inmate's filing of the petition for writ of habeas corpus. After the petition is filed, the court must rule on the petition within 60 days. A court rules on a petition in one of three ways:

  1. Issues an order to show cause;
  2. Denies the petition; or
  3. Request an informal response.

As noted in Rule 4.545, issuing an order to show cause is referred to as "granting the writ." Of course, this doesn't mean that the court agreed with the substance of the petitioner's claims, only that they established a prima facie case.

If the court issues an order to show cause, it must also appoint counsel if the petitioner is unrepresented. Then, the district attorney is given the opportunity to file a "return," which is essentially the district attorney's answer to the petition. In the return, the district attorney outlines whether they agree with the petitioner and, if not, why the petitioner is not entitled to the relief sought. This is done by addressing each material allegation in the petition, indicating whether the district attorney "admits" or "denies" the allegation.

In response to the district attorney's return, the petitioner can then file a traverse. In the traverse, a petitioner should respond to each of the material allegations that the district attorney denied, explaining why the district attorney's reasoning or factual assumptions are flawed.

Finally, after the court reviews all of the pleadings, it will either grant or deny relief. Alternatively, if the court believes that is "a reasonable likelihood that the petitioner may be entitled to relief and the petitioner's entitlement to relief depends on the resolution of an issue of fact," the court will order an evidentiary hearing. In the evidentiary hearing, the court can consider new and additional evidence [link to WHC New and Additional Evidence page] that was not contained in the trial record.

Most habeas corpus petitions do not make it to the evidentiary hearing stage. Thus, it is essential that those inmates with strong claims work with an experienced Los Angeles post-conviction attorney to ensure their claims are given the attention they deserve.

Discuss Your Habeas Corpus Claims with a Southern California Criminal Appeals Lawyer

If you are pursuing habeas corpus relief, obtaining an order to show cause from the presiding judge is almost certainly a necessary step along the way. At Power Trial Lawyers, our Los Angeles habeas corpus attorneys command an impressive knowledge of the substantive and procedural laws that govern these claims. We have a history of not only getting our clients' issues before the court but also obtaining relief on behalf of clients who were previously sentenced to lengthy terms of imprisonment. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation with Attorney Barhoma today, call 213-800-7664. You can also reach us through our online contact form.

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