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Final Technical Report: Habeas Litigation in US District Courts

NCJ Number
Nancy J. King; Fred L. Cheesman II; Brian J. Ostrom
Date Published
127 pages

This report provides information about habeas corpus cases filed by state prisoners under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, with the target audience of policymakers who design or assess changes in habeas law, litigants and courts who address the scope and meaning of the habeas statutes, and for researchers interested in the processing of habeas petitions in federal courts.


The purpose of the study discussed in this report was to provide empirical information about habeas corpus cases filed by state prisoners in U.S. District Courts under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). This report first provides an overview of federal habeas review and the current statutory scheme before discussing the five categories of empirical information about habeas review: time before filing; claims for relief; operation of defenses; time for processing; and merits review and case outcomes. The report is divided into five sections, with the introduction providing the federal habeas review and research review, as well as a discussion of the study design and methodology. The second section provides descriptive findings of: petitioner demographics; state proceedings; representation of petitioner in federal court; timing of petitions; type of proceedings challenged; claims raised; intermediate orders; litigation steps; processing time; non-merits dispositions; merits dispositions; and appeals. The third section provides comparative findings, of post- and pre-AEDPA studies, capital and non-capital cases. The fourth section provides explanatory findings of capital and non-capital cases, and discusses factors associated with likelihood of relief in capital cases. And the fifth section consists of Appendices, providing statistical tables, cases, writs granted, and lists of districts and variables collected.