Relief Through Writ of Habeas Corpus Should Be Available to All Through Simple and Direct Means Subject to Certain Reasonable Limitations
In State ex rel. Butterworth v. Kenny, 714 So. 2d 404 (Fla. 1998) the Court detailed the history of habeas corpus in Florida:
Historically, habeas corpus and coram nobis proceedings were the only means available to challenge the validity of a conviction and sentence.
In 1963, this Court enacted Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 1, which was the predecessor to current Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure 3.850 and 3.851.
The rule was almost identical to its federal counterpart and was adopted to provide a complete and efficacious postconviction remedy to correct convictions where there is a claimed denial of some fundamental or organic right in the course of the trial, and the procedural default of failing to appeal from a judgment of conviction is not equivalent to an express waiver of the constitutional right and will not preclude collateral attack on an unlawful conviction by means of a proceeding brought under the criminal procedure rule. 28 Fla. Jur. 2d, Habeas Corpus 127 (1981).
The relief provided by the rule was coextensive with that available under habeas corpus or coram nobis proceedings but minimized the difficulties encountered in those proceedings by directing that a motion for relief is to be addressed to the court that imposed the sentence. Id.
In the rule, this Court clearly stated that a habeas corpus petition was not to be entertained and that the process set forth in the rule for seeking postconviction relief was to be used unless the remedy by motion under the rule was "inadequate to test the legality of the detention." 151 So. 2d 634, at 635 (Fla. 1963).
Thus, while habeas corpus and coram nobis are still used in the postconviction process, their use is somewhat limited.
Technically, habeas corpus and other postconviction relief proceedings are classified as civil proceedings.
Unlike a general civil action, however, wherein parties seek to remedy a private wrong, a habeas corpus or other postconviction relief proceeding is used to challenge the validity of a conviction and sentence. See, e.g., Murray, 492 U.S. 1, at 13, 106 L. Ed. 2d 1, 109 S. Ct. 2765 (1989) (O'Connor, J., concurring) (postconviction proceeding is a civil action designed to overturn a presumptively valid criminal judgment); O'Neal v. McAninch, 513 U.S. 432, 440, 130 L. Ed. 2d 947, 115 S. Ct. 992 (1995) (habeas is a civil proceeding involving someone's custody rather than mere civil liability).
Consequently, postconviction relief proceedings, while technically classified as civil actions, are actually quasi-criminal in nature because they are heard and disposed of by courts with criminal jurisdiction. 714 So. 2d 404, 408-10 (Fla. 1998).
In addition to being quasi-criminal, the writ of habeas corpus is explicitly derived from text of the Florida Constitution, which provides that the writ "shall never be suspended unless, in case of rebellion or invasion, suspension is essential to the public safety. " Art. I, 13, Fla. Const.
As this Court explained in Haag v. State, 591 So. 2d 614, 616 (Fla. 1992), "a basic guarantee of Florida law is that the right to relief through the writ of habeas corpus must be 'grantable of right, freely and without cost.' " (quoting article I, section 13 of the Florida Constitution).
While the right to habeas relief "is subject to certain reasonable limitations consistent with its full and fair exercise," it "should be available to all through simple and direct means, without needless complication or impediment, and should be fairly administered in favor of justice and not bound by technicality." Id.