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The Habeas Corpus Resource Center was established in 1998 to accept appointments in state and federal habeas corpus proceedings and to provide training and support for private attorneys who are appointed to these cases. The HCRC was created as a part of the judicial branch of the State of California, effective January 1, 1998, by Senate Bill (SB) 513 (Ch. 869, 1998 Stats.).
The legislation brought substantial changes to habeas corpus representation in capital cases by establishing the HCRC and by making two fundamental changes in the procedures governing appointment of counsel to represent indigent persons in capital cases pending before the California Supreme Court. SB 513 originally codified these provisions as Government Code sections 68650 to 68654. The provisions subsequently were renumbered as detailed below:
- Government Code Sections 68660 to 68664. These sections provide for the creation of the HCRC to train and develop the skills of the attorneys appointed to habeas corpus proceedings.
- Government Code Section 68663. Section 68663 provides for separate counsel to be appointed to represent death-sentenced prisoners in the automatic direct appeal before the California Supreme Court, and in the post-conviction (or habeas corpus) proceeding, unless the prisoner and counsel request representation by the same attorney in both aspects of the capital case. Prior to the enactment of this provision, the California Supreme Court's practice was to appoint one attorney to represent the inmate in both the direct appeal and the habeas corpus proceedings.
- Government Code Section 68665. Section 68665 provides for the Supreme Court to adopt--by rule of court--binding and mandatory competency standards for the appointment of counsel in capital proceedings.
By affording counsel the option of accepting appointments limited to either the direct appeal or habeas corpus proceedings, the Legislature, in enacting Government Code Section 68663, sought to expand the pool of qualified attorneys available to accept appointment in capital cases. As part of that effort, Government Code sections 68660 to 68664 created the HCRC to augment and train the attorneys available to handle habeas corpus proceedings.The HCRC assists the California Supreme Court in seeking qualified counsel for appointment in capital cases.
The HCRC employs legal professionals (attorneys, paralegals, investigators) and a small administrative staff. Staff members are assigned to cases depending on a case's timeline, complexity, size of record, and level of experience of assigned staff. New appointments are carefully screened to ensure that no conflict of interest exists. For cases that do present any conflict, the California Supreme Court makes appointments to qualified private attorneys.
Litigation of a capital appeal and habeas corpus proceeding is a complex and time-consuming undertaking. Counsel appointed to represent death-sentenced prisoners in the automatic appeals review extensive trial records, which average in excess of 9,000 pages of Reporter's and Clerk's transcripts, and research and prepare voluminous briefs based on state and federal statutory and constitutional law. Representation of the prisoner in habeas corpus proceedings includes the duty to review the trial records; conduct an investigation of potential constitutional and statutory defects in the judgment of conviction or the sentence of death; prepare and file a petition for a writ of habeas corpus; represent the prisoner at the hearing to set an execution date pursuant to Penal Code section 1227; and prepare a request for executive clemency from the Governor of California.