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 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 and amended and are summarized below:
- Government Code Sections 68660-68661.1, 68664. These sections describe the function of the HCRC.
- Government Code Section 68662. Section 68662 provides for the appointment of counsel to indigent persons in capital cases for purposes of state post-conviction 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 (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 usual 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 Judicial Council and Supreme Court to adopt--by rule of court--binding and mandatory competency standards for the appointment of counsel in capital appellate and habeas corpus 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, the Legislature created the HCRC to augment and train the attorneys available to handle habeas corpus proceedings. The HCRC assists the courts 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.
Litigation of a capital appeal and habeas corpus proceeding is a complex and time-consuming undertaking. Counsel appointed to represent death-sentenced individual 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 petitions and briefs based on state and federal statutory and constitutional law. Representation of the individual 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; when an evidentiary hearing is ordered as to any habeas claims, present evidence supporting those claims at the hearing; represent the individual at any hearing to set an execution date pursuant to Penal Code section 1227; and, if habeas relief is not granted in the courts, prepare a request for executive clemency from the Governor of California.