Thursday, March 15, 2012

Definition of the Month of March 2012: Writ

Have you ever been in that situation where you knew what you wanted to say or you knew the specific definition of a word and it was hanging on the tip of your tongue (so to speak) but you just couldn't (for the life of you) think of it at that precise moment but then as you were laying in bed (and just as you drifted off to sleep) you remember and jump and scream out the word/definition freaking out everyone around you?  Have you ever?  I do all the time which is why I am on a campaign to help you (and those sleeping next to or around you) by defining some legalesque words so that you're not stumbling around trying to remember what you should have said 20 minutes ago.

So, today's word is WRIT.  A "writ" is a court's written order commanding the addressee to do our refrain from doing some specified act.  Pretty simple definition - not so simple application because there are several different kinds of writs.  For purposes of this post, I'll cover three popular ones.

Writ of Habeas Corpus.  This writ is a document to bring a person before a court to ensure that a person's imprisonment is not illegal.  Basically what this means is that a person was tried for a crime and was found guilty.  Like most people sitting in prison, everyone things they got the shaft at their trial so they file appeal after appeal to get the court to ignore what a jury of 12 random people thought.  The Writ of Habeas Corpus says that there was error in the decision to put me in prison and this is that is why I should either be set free or be given another trial.

Writ of Mandamus.  This is a document issued by a court to compel performance of a particular act.  Generally used at the Appellate court level to force a trial (or administrative) court to do (or not do) something.  For example: say a government ordinance says the county MUST meet and confer (discuss) the terms of an employee contract, but the government entity (i.e. city, county, state) doesn't want to.  A writ of mandamus can be issued to force the entity to meet with the union - but it can't force it to accept any specific terms.  Yeah, it can be complicated sometimes.

Writ of Prohibition.  This is a document issued by a court to a lower court that prohibits or forbids a certain action.  It is important to note that the writ of prohibition only prevents threatened actions.  Actions which have already occurred can be challenged with a writ of review (certiorari).  Writs of Prohibition will be granted to prevent a court from enforcing a preliminary injunction, or to sanction a nonparty to an action, or to prevent a court from proceeding with a new trial.  In each instance, the treat was actual - not assumed (meaning that the threat has to be in the works and not something that might have happened or could have happened).

Like I tell everyone who comes into our law library, if you don't understand something, get smart and look it up.  Omnipotent as Law Librarians are, sometimes even we miss things so it's best that you do your homework and dig around until you find a answer to your own question.  Oh, and if you do, do you mind letting me know so I can maintain my persona of omnipotence?