The Term “Prima Facie” In The Context Of Habeas Petitions and SB 1437

Definition of Prima Facie

Prima Facie is Latin for “at first sight” and means based on what seems to be the truth when first seen or heard. Prima facie may be used as an adjective meaning “sufficient to establish a fact or raise a presumption unless disproved or rebutted.” An example of this would be to use the term “prima facie evidence.”

It may also be used as an adverb meaning “on first appearance but subject to further evidence or information.” An example of this would be to use the term “prima facie valid.”

Prima Facie in the context of Habeas Petitions

A prima facie case for relief states facts that, if true, entitle the petitioner to relief and states claims that are not procedurally barred. ( In re Clark (1993) 5 Cal.4th 750, 769, fn. 9,) ( People v. Romero (1994) 8 Cal.4th 728, 737) If the court finds the factual allegations, taken as true, establish a prima facie case for relief, the court will issue an order to show cause (OSC). ( People v. Duvall, supra, 9 Cal.4th at p. 475) “When an order to show cause does issue, it is limited to the claims raised in the petition and the factual bases for those claims alleged in the petition. It directs the respondent to address only those issues.” ( In re Clark (1993) 5 Cal.4th 750, 781, fn. 16) “Issuance of an OSC … indicates the issuing court’s preliminary assessment that the petitioner would be entitled to relief if his factual allegations are proved.” (People v. Duvall , supra, 9 Cal.4th at p. 475)

When a petition for a writ of habeas corpus is filed in a Superior Court court must first determine whether the petition states a prima facie case for relief. A prima facie case is made out when the petition states facts that, if true, entitle the petitioner to relief, and the stated claims are not for any reason procedurally barred. The court may also request the production of records from the custodian of any of petitioner’s records, or may request an informal response from the respondent or may issue an order to show cause. as discussed below. If the court determines that the petition does not state a prima facie case for relief or that the claims are all procedurally barred, the court may issue a summary denial.

By issuing the Writ, the court orders the person having custody of the petitioner to bring the petitioner
The writ also commands the custodian to submit a written return justifying the petitioner’s imprisonment or other restraint.

When it appears from the allegation of a habeas corpus petition that the petitioner is entitled to relief, many courts order the respondent’s custodian to show cause why the relief sought should not be granted.

The Supreme Court, the courts of appeal, and many superior courts, especially in counties with large state prisons and many habeas corpus filings follow this procedure. The order to show cause is used as a substitute for the writ of habeas corpus and orders the respondent custodian to serve and file a written return.

The court may not grant the relief requested in the petition for habeas corpus without first issuing either a writ or an order to show cause.

An order to show cause is limited to the claims raised in the habeas corpus petition and the factual bases for those claims alleged in the petition. By issuing an order to show cause the court has determined that the petitioner has made a sufficient prima facie statement of specific facts which, if proven entitled him to relief, but that determination is only preliminary. The custodian of the confined person must file a responsive pleading, called a return, justifying the confinement.

Senate Bill 1437 and Prima Facie Showings
(Based on The CACJ Flash The Term “Prima Facie” In The Context Of SB 1437 By Al Menaster, Esq.)

“Senate Bill 1437 was enacted to amend the felony murder rule and the natural and probable consequences doctrine, as it relates to murder, to ensure that murder liability is not imposed on a person who is not the actual killer, did not act with the intent to kill, or was not a major participant in the underlying felony who acted with reckless indifference to human life.” (People v. Martinez (2019) 31 Cal.App.5th 719, 723)

Under SB 1437 a court receiving a petition must determine if the petitioner has made a prima facie showing that the petitioner falls within the provisions of this section. The court appoint counsel to represent the petitioner if the petitioner has made the request. The briefing schedule provides that the prosecutor files and serve a response within 60 days of service of the petition and the petitioner may file and serve a reply within 30 days after the prosecutor’s response is served. These deadlines shall be extended for good cause. If the petitioner makes a prima facie showing that he or she is entitled to relief, the court shall issue an order to show cause. (Pen. Code § 1170.95, subd. (c).)

The statute requires a court to issue an order to show cause when the petitioner “makes a prima facie showing” justifying relief.

In January of 2019, retired judge J. Richard Couzens distributed an article to the judiciary entitled “Accomplice Liability for Murder (SB 1437).” In discussing the issue of a prima facie showing, Judge Couzens explained that the court’s consideration is not limited to the response and reply, and nothing precludes the court from conducting its own review of other information such as the court’s file. The allegations of the petition are frequently erroneous, and review of the court file may show as a matter of law that the petitioner is not eligible for relief. Summary denial of a petition would be appropriate to based on petitioner’s failure to establish even a prima facie basis of eligibility for resentencing.

Information apart from the petition itself can be used to summarily deny a petition but cannot be based on claims made by the prosecution in their response. “Prima facie” means viewing the allegations as true notwithstanding claims or evidence to the contrary.

Judge Couzens cited Rule 4.551 of the California Rules of Court (at p. 28), which governs habeas corpus proceedings, and which provides as follows:

The court must issue an order to show cause if the petitioner has made a prima facie showing that he or she is entitled to relief. In doing so, the court takes petitioner’s factual allegations as true and makes a preliminary assessment regarding whether the petitioner would be entitled to relief if his or her factual allegations were proved. If so, the court must issue an order to show cause. (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 4.551(c)(1).)