Post-Conviction Procedure Act, Model Summary

The NCCUSL first promulgated a Uniform Post-Conviction Procedure Act in 1955. It was revised in 1966, when the Amer­ican Bar Association (ABA) published its first Standards on Post-Conviction Remedies. The ABA is currently updating its Criminal Justice Standards, and this has necessitated a re­vision of the Post-Conviction Procedure Act in 1980.

Without a specific remedy, authorized by statute, certain defects in criminal convictions cannot be successfully raised in a proceeding before state' courts. Both the extraordinary writs of habeas corpus and coram nobis are, generally, too narrow to encompass certain claims. Yet, denial of a remedy may, in fact, be itself a constitutional problem and a denial of due process of law. However, the practical effect of lim­itations on available remedies has been, historically, to put the burden on habeas corpus proceedings in the federal courts. In 1955, the Post-Conviction Procedure Act was designed to pro­vide a remedy in state courts and to relieve the burden on the federal courts. This remains the primary policy this Act serves.

The Act is relatively simple. A convicted person may peti­tion for relief on certain very specific grounds. These include violation of the Constitution of the United States or the con­stitution or laws· of any enacting state, lack of jurisdiction over the person or subject matter, a sentence not authorized by law, new evidence which would vacate the conviction, and the like. These are grounds which go to the basic validity of a conviction. The state must, then, answer, and a hearing on the merits shall take place if the issues raised are genuine.

The Uniform Post-Conviction Procedure Act (1980) varies only slightly from the past Acts in terms of its basic goal and its procedural provisions. It expands, slightly, the grounds upon which a petition may be based. It permits coordi­nation with any appeals which may be filed, a procedural dif­ficulty with the earlier Acts.

The principal changes affect the state's capacity to answer, and reimbursement of costs and litigation expenses. One of the problems with post-conviction remedies has been frivolous use of the remedy and repetitive filings. In the Post-Conviction Procedure Act (1980), the state has the affirma­tive defenses of res judicata and misuse of process. Also, a petitioner may be taxed with the state's costs of litigation if "the applicant's claim was so completely lacking in factual support or legal basis as to be frivolous or… a deliberate misuse of process…"

The last significant change concerns representation of petitioners. Although, in 1955 and 1966, the preceding Acts provided for costs if an applicant was indigent, including the costs of legal services, the Post-Conviction Procedure Act (1980) requires appointment of counsel if "the court is satisfied that the applicant is unable to obtain adequate legal representation…" Costs are to be assumed, also. The avail­ability of legal services has, generally, improved since the earlier Acts. The Post-Conviction Procedure Act (1980) contem­plates greater use by petitioners of legal services. Hence, rules pertaining to evidence and discovery have been toughened.

All changes reflect the latest ABA Criminal Justice Stand­ards. The basic policy and reason for this Act remains the same. It provides a necessary remedy in state courts, and is a very desirable addition to criminal procedures.