There are many records you may need to gather for your Federal Writ, the 2255, and many places where you have to gather those records.
Start With Your Trial Attorney
One of the people who can provide records is your trial attorney.
Whether you had a trial or whether you pled guilty, your trial attorney will have a file. This file should contain the motions and documents that were filed in the court, as well as the discovery in the case.
These things can include police reports, lab reports, witness statements, video footage, and any other discoveries or records that may pertain to the evidence that was used to prosecute you in your case.
These discovery reports and records are incredibly important with a federal writ, but you should also gather records like the notes and documents that they have in their file showing their time entries and any similar data, because it shows what they did or didn’t do, and it can be something that can help you in your claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.
Search Federal Court Records For Your Federal Writ
Additionally, you need to obtain access to everything the court has in its file. Federal courts are all online, so you can do any record gathering through a PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) account. You can Google it for the district that you’re in and go to the website to create a free PACER account. You do have to put a card onto the account to be billed for the pages that you download or the things that you search for, so there is some cost to gathering certain records on the account.
You can also receive access to these records by going to the district court where you were convicted.
There’s computer terminal access at any district court that you can use to access the documents available on PACER. The court will not charge you to access and view the records, but you typically will be charged to print them.
Most of the time prisoners do not have access to these files, so a loved one (possibly you if you have someone in prison you’re seeking freedom for) may have to access these documents on behalf of the prisoner who wishes to use them.
Many times there’s confusion about what has occurred in the case, possibly because the trial attorney wasn’t communicating with you, or possibly because the entire process was misunderstood by one or multiple parties. For these reasons, it’s always a good idea to obtain access to these records in any situation.
You may find that some of the documents you want to retrieve on PACER are not publicly available because they’re sealed documents. For example, most documents that relate to the sentencing of the convicted are sealed.
To gain access to these documents, you have to obtain the defense file from your defense attorney. This is another reason it’s critical that you request the defense file, as you might want documents that are unavailable on PACER.
Get Copies of Court Transcripts
One other important thing you should do in your record gathering for your federal writ is to gather any and all available court transcripts. If your case went up on direct appeal, there should be reporter transcripts available.
You can typically get these transcripts through an appellate attorney if there was one involved in your case. If there wasn’t an appellate attorney present in your case, then you can get the transcripts directly from the court. In the instance that the transcripts were never made in the first place, you can request them to be made. Suppose you went through the plea process but never appealed.
In this situation, no transcripts would have been made. You can ask that those transcripts be made by requesting them from the court reporter. These transcripts do have a cost; however, the court will generate the transcripts at your request and bill you for them. There is a minor exemption from the payment, however: People who are indigent are entitled to get the transcripts done for them for free, but that’s only if they have already filed the 2255 motion and are afterward declared indigent for the purposes of obtaining the transcripts.
Get The Prosecutors File
The final recordset you will want to retrieve is the prosecutor’s file. They will at least have the same amount of discovery materials as the defense file has, but occasionally there will be more materials. If this occurs it may be worth considering claiming Brady evidence as a ground.
Claiming Brady evidence simply means you are claiming that the prosecution withheld exculpatory evidence that would have helped you defend yourself, or that they withheld evidence that would have helped lessen your punishment had you had access to the withheld documents or information. For this reason, access to these files is an absolute necessity.
Getting access to the prosecutor’s file is usually done through a Freedom of Information Act request. You can make this type of request to the actual agencies who investigated you, or you can request the information from the U.S. Attorney’s Office that prosecuted you.
There are some timelines for them to respond, and there are certain things that they can withhold in the foyer responses, so the entire process is something that you will have to navigate through efficiently to achieve the best results.
Do not file your 2255 Writ without gathering every record that you can access, or your chances of success will decrease and you are less likely to be granted relief.
If you cannot collect a record you need access to for any reason, you can request the court to compel certain parties to bring their records so that you can use them, but it’s always best to collect as many records as possible upfront to have the best chance in your case.
Public Access to Court Electronic Records PACER
About The Attorney
Jacob Blizzard is board certified in both criminal law and criminal appellate law.
He regularly practices in the areas of state and federal criminal defense, criminal appeals, post conviction writs of habeas corpus.
In Texas, there are more than 100,000 attorneys licensed to practice, but only 7,450 are board certified.
In the entire State of Texas, as of the 2019 certification year, there were only 87 attorneys board certified in both criminal law and criminal appellate law, making Mr. Blizzard one of 0.087% of attorneys in Texas to hold both of those certifications.