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What is a Petition for a Writ of Coram Vobis?

Like a petition for writ of error coram nobis, a petition for writ of coram error vobis concerns a request by a party, usually defendant, for a judge to reconsider the case based on newly discovered evidence.

However, a writ of error coram nobis is sought in the trial court.  A writ of error coram vobis is sought in the appellate court. 

For example, if one were to go to trial, lose, file a motion for new trial, lose that and decide to appeal, one is no longer in the trial court.  While the appeal is pending, one receives new evidence that would have guaranteed a new trial.  One can then ask the appellate court, via a petition for writ of error coram vobis to order the trial court to reconsider its denial of the motion for new trial in light of newly discovered evidence.
Brief Synopsis: A petition for a writ of error coram vobis is a request for an appellate court to consider new evidence that arose after a case was transferred to the appellate court.  It is similar to a petition for a writ of error coram nobis, which is filed in the trial court.  There are four requirements for filing such a writ in the appellate court, as this article explains.         
After all, filing a notice of appeal deprives the trial court of jurisdiction to hear a petition for writ of coram nobis.  People v. Haynes (1969) 270 Cal. App. 2d 318, 320-321.  As such, when an appeal is pending, the appropriate tribunal for such relief is the appellate court.  See Prickett, “The Writ of Error Coram Nobis in California,” Santa Clara L. Rev. 1, 58-59 (1990).

Before one decides to file a petition for writ of error coram vobis, it is wise to know the four requirements, which are rather tough to meet.  They are that petitioner must first show “[S]ome fact existed which, without any fault or negligence on his part, was not presented to the court at the trial on the merits, and which if presented would have prevented the rendition of the judgment.”  People v. Kim (2009) 45 Cal. 4th 1078, at 1093.  This means the newly discovered fact “must have been unknown and must have been in existence at the time of the judgment.”  Id.

Second, “[T]he newly discovered evidence . . . [does not go] to the merits of the issues tried; issues of fact, once adjudicated, even though incorrectly, cannot be reopened except on motion for new trial.”  [Citations] This second requirement applies even though the evidence in question is not discovered until after the time for moving for a new trial has elapsed or the motion has been denied.”  Kim, supra, 45 Cal. 4th at 1093.

Third, “[T]he facts upon which [the petitioner] relies were not known to [the petitioner] and could not in the exercise of due diligence have been discovered by [the petitioner] at any time substantially earlier than the time of [the] motion for the writ.”  Kim, supra, 45 Cal. 4th at 1097.  As to this requirement, “the showing of diligence essential to the granting of relief by coram nobis should be no less that the similar showing required in civil cases where relief is sought against lately discovered fraud. 

In such cases, it is necessary to aver not only the probative facts upon which the basis claim rests, but also the time and circumstances under which the facts were discovered, in order that the court can determine as a matter of law whether the litigant proceeded with due diligence; a mere allegation of the ultimate facts, or of the legal conclusion of diligence, is insufficient.”  Id., at 1096-1097 (emphasis omitted).

Fourth, the writ is not available “where the defendant has a remedy by (a) appeal or (b) motion for a new trial and failed to avail himself of such remedies.”  Kim, 45 Cal. 4th at 1093.

Some courts have narrowed the grounds for the writ of error coram vobis even further and held that coram vobis cannot issue absent a showing of extrinsic fraud, i.e., misrepresentation or nondisclosure with respect to material facts that prevents a party from having a meaningful hearing a fully preparing all of the evidence in support of his or her case.  Philippine Export  & Foreign Loan Guarantor Corp. v. Chuidian (1990) 218 Cal. App. 3d 1058, 1090 – 1091.

Because of the restrictions place upon granting the writ, coram vobis functions only “to correct an error of fact.  It never issues to correct an error of law.”  People v. Forest (2017) 16 Cal. App. 4th 1099, at 1112; see Rollins v. City and County of San Francisco (1974) 37 Cal. App. 3d 145, at 150 (“Coram nobis is . . . available merely to declare as false a fact previously decided to be true”). 

Coram vobis also will not issue to allow reevaluation of findings or opinions in light of newly discovered facts.  “Forming a new opinion based on a recently learned fact which could have been brought out at trial is not a basis for relief under coram nobis.”  Forest, supra, at 1112. 

“The writ of error coram vobis exists to ‘correct an error of fact which was unrecognized prior to the final disposition of the proceeding.  It is not intended as a means of revising findings based on known facts, or facts that should have been known by the exercise of ordinary and reasonable diligence.”  In re Derek W. (1999) 73 Cal. App. 4th 828, 831-832.

In short, where post-trial motions have been made and denied, “[t]he writ of error coram vobis permits the appellate court” to “independently evaluate whether the newly discovered fact presented in the petition warrants relief,” and, if it does, “command a trial court to reconsider its decision in light of evidence discovered during the pendency of the appeal.” Forest, supra, 16 Cal. App. 4th at 1109. 

Bear in mind, however, that “the granting of a writ of error coram nobis is completely discretionary” (Forest, supra, 16 Cal. App. 4th at 1111) and remains “an extraordinary remedy [that] should be invoked on those rare occasions when a party has no other and the interest of justice so dictates.”  Monsan Homes, Inc. v. Pogrebneak (1989) 210 Cal. App. 3d 826, 831.

For more information about petitions for writ of coram nobis and other post-conviction issues involving new evidence, please click on the following articles:
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