New opinion: Third Circuit clarifies narrowness of coram nobis writ, denying as untimely a man’s challenge to a prior conviction being used to deport him

Ragbir v. U.S.—immigration—affirmance—Smith

The Third Circuit today affirmed the district court’s denial of a man’s coram nobis challenges to an earlier conviction that the government now is using to removal him because he failed to provide sound reasons for waiting almost 10 years after his conviction to file his coram nobis petition.

Coram nobis is an English common-law writ that now functions as a gap-filler, offering a narrow vehicle for relief in situations where the petitioner’s release from custody bars him from using more common writs such as habeas corpus. Emphasis on narrow. The court today distilled prior caselaw to find five things the petitioner must show to qualify for coram nobis relief:

the petitioner (1) is no longer in custody; (2) suffers continuing consequences from the purportedly invalid conviction; (3) provides sound reasons for failing to seek relief earlier; (4) had no available remedy at the time of trial; and (5) asserted error(s) of a fundamental kind.

The opinion elaborates on the meaning of these five prerequisites. The petitioner here lost on the third one; he offered a series of reasons for delaying in raising his various claims, but the court rejected them all, emphasizing that “this Court does not apply a timeliness standard for coram nobis that is forgiving of delay and dilatoriness.”

Coram nobis is a somewhat obscure corner of the law, but, for future Third Circuit cases where it arises, today’s opinion will be a key case.

Joining Smith were Hardiman and Phipps. Arguing counsel were Amy Joseph and Daniela Ugaz of Washington Square Legal Services for the petitioner and Mark Coyne of the DNJ U.S. Attorney’s office for the government.