I am told that, in the US, people sentenced to death by a state can apply to that state's court for habeas corpus and then, if that fails, apply to a federal court for habeas corpus again.

I thought habeas corpus is habeas corpus. You are either lawfully imprisoned or you aren't. Even if the writ is being considered by a federal court, they are still judging your imprisonment against state law (or so I presume, since there wouldn't be any federal law relevant to your imprisonment for a state offence).

What is the difference between state and federal habeas corpus?

  • Federal laws are very relevant to imprisonment for state offenses, thanks to the Fourteenth Amendment. Jun 6, 2016 at 14:41
  • I'm confused about that. Doesn't the state court take the relevant federal law into account when determining the legality of the applicant's imprisonment? Jun 8, 2016 at 12:15
  • I think so, yes. But the Fourteenth Amendment says that the federal government also has responsibility for ensuring that defendants receive due process, as federal law and courts have defined it. So, if the defendant claims that state courts are not upholding due process in their case, they can seek relief in federal court. Jun 8, 2016 at 21:31


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