The Writ of Coram Vobis: Appellate Law’s Most Underrated Tool?

A trial court hands down its judgment, to the disappointment of your client. A post-trial motion for new trial is denied, prompting an appeal. During the pendency of the appeal, certain facts come to light that would have virtually guaranteed a new trial. Does the losing party have any recourse?

In certain circumstances, the losing party can petition for what’s known as a writ of coram vobis. While this writ is more commonly used in criminal appeals, it is available in California civil appeals, too.

What Is the Writ of Coram Vobis?

The writ is an appellate court order directing a trial court to reconsider its judgment, in light of new evidence. This is evidence that was not in the record at trial. Key to success, it also could not have reasonably been discovered during trial or the limited window to motion for a new trial.

The writ is commonly used in criminal appeals. However, the same principles that govern its use in criminal matters apply to civil ones as well. Only a limited set of circumstances, discussed below, warrant the use of this writ.

When Can a Party Petition for a Writ of Coram Vobis?

This writ is not intended to be used in situations in which a losing party could have motioned for a new trial. If the evidence in question was (or should reasonably have been) known at the time a motion for new trial could have been made, but a party fails to make such a motion, the writ of coram vobis cannot be employed. In other words, it is not designed to give a party a second chance at a new trial.

Conversely, the writ may be used where new evidence that was not and could not have been known emerges. More specifically, the following criteria must be met.

Certain evidence exists that was not presented to the trial court. The failure to present this evidence was not due to negligence on the petitioner’s part. Also, if said evidence had been presented, the outcome of the trial would have been different. Put more simply: this evidence must have (1) existed, and (2) been unknown/unknowable during the trial phase.

The new evidence must not relate to issues already tried. Issues of fact, even if they are incorrectly adjudicated, can only be reopened on a motion for new trial. This rule applies even if the evidence isn’t discovered until after the time to move for a new trial has expired.

The petitioner must not have known, or been able to know, about the evidence prior to requesting the writ. Expressed another way, it must be true that due diligence could not have uncovered this evidence earlier. The petitioner should be able to demonstrate the time and circumstances under which the evidence was discovered. The appellate court must then determine whether the petitioner should have found this evidence earlier, using all due diligence.

The writ cannot be used if the petitioner failed to motion for a new trial or appeal. Other viable legal remedies, therefore, must have already been exhausted. Failure to take these steps would render the writ of coram vobis unavailable.

Some courts have gone even further to limit the writ, for example by requiring proof of extrinsic fraud. Examples may include intentional misrepresentation or nondisclosure of evidence that effectively prevented a fair presentation of relevant facts at trial. Regardless, and in light of the above requirements, this writ is to only be used in rather extraordinary circumstances.

Ask How Gusdorff Law Can Serve Your California Civil Appellate Law Needs

When you retain an appellate law firm, you expect your attorney to use all available legal means to prevail. This includes even obscure ones, such as the writ of coram vobis. At Gusdorff Law, we pride ourselves on vigorously advocating for the best interests of our clients. Let us show you how we can help with your California civil appeal. Call us today.

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