Coram Nobis,  Criminal Procedure,  Federal Procedure,  Ninth Circuit,  Writ Practice

Undue Delay Precludes Coram Nobis Relief Even Where No Prejudice Results from Delay

A petitioner for writ of coram nobis must satisfy a four-part test, one element of which is that  “valid reasons exist for not attacking the conviction earlier.”  Hirabayashi v. United States, 828 F.2d 591, 604 (9th Cir. 1987).  In United States v. Riedl, case no. 06-10424 (August 6, 2007), the petitioner argued to the Ninth Circuit that even if the court did not accept her reasons for delay as valid, the delay could not preclude relief unless the government asserted laches, i.e., that it would suffer prejudice from a grant of the writ in light of the delay.  The Ninth Circuit rejects the argument, finding that undue delay precludes relief even in the absence of prejudice:

We agree with the district court that Riedl’s petition must be denied. She has failed to provide any valid reasons for waiting so long to challenge her convictions on these grounds, and thus plainly does not satisfy the requirements for the highly unusual remedy of coram nobis relief. See Hirabayashi v. United States, 828 F.2d 591, 604 (9th Cir. 1987) adopting four factors as predicates for coram nobis relief, including that “valid reasons exist for not attacking the conviction earlier”). Riedl attempts to overcome her unjustified delay by invoking the equitable doctrine of laches, arguing that the government has not been prejudiced by her tardiness. Cf. Telink, Inc. v. United States, 24 F.3d 42, 45 (9th Cir. 1994) (addressing laches in coram nobis context). We reject the notion that a petitioner can employ laches in such a fashion. To follow Riedl’s suggestion under the circumstances of this case would transform the extraordinary writ of coram nobis into a free pass for attacking criminal judgments long after they have become final.

Riedl was attempting to turn laches from a shield into a sword.  The Ninth Circuit finds offensive use of the doctrine . . . well, offensive:

Nevertheless, Riedl is incorrect that coram nobis relief is available as long as it is not barred by laches. Our decisions that have considered laches have done so only because the government invoked the doctrine as a supplemental defense.  Those decisions have not purported to overrule the Hirabayshi framework, which places the initial burden of justifying delay squarely on the petitioner, nor as three-judge opinions could they have done so.

(Emphasis in original.)