Cunningham v. Hayes

In Cunningham v. Hayes, 204 Va. 851, 134 S.E.2d 271 (1964), the habeas corpus petitioner filed his petition in the trial court to attack his conviction and sentence for murder on the ground that his indictment had been sufficient to charge only manslaughter. See id. at 852, 134 S.E.2d at 272. The Supreme Court noted that the Constitution of Virginia guarantees the right of a defendant to demand "'the cause and nature of his accusation,'" but a defendant who does not exercise the right is deemed to have waived it. Id. at 855, 134 S.E.2d at 274. "'The Constitution of Virginia does not require that the notice shall be by indictment or any other prescribed manner.'" Id. The Court held the petitioner had notice because he understood before and during the trial that he was on trial for murder. See id. at 857, 134 S.E.2d at 276. Observing that the statutory requirement for an indictment can be waived, the Court held that the indictment was not a jurisdictional requirement for a conviction or sentence. See id. at 855, 134 S.E.2d at 274. Consequently, the Court found that habeas corpus relief, which only is available for jurisdictional defects, did not lie. See id. at 859, 134 S.E.2d at 277. The Court held that non-jurisdictional defects, such as voidable judgments like the one of which the petitioner complained, must be raised on direct appeal. See id.