writ of error

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A writ emanating from an appellate court, demanding that a lower court convey the record of a case to the appellate court so that the record may be reviewed for alleged errors of law committed during a juridical proceeding. See, e.g. Worcester v. Georgia, 31 U.S. 515 (1832).  When a writ of error is sent by the appellate court to the trial court for a review of the trial court's judgment based on an alleged error of fact, it is termed a writ of error coram nobis from the Latin "before you."  A writ of error that is directed to a court for review of its own judgment based on alleged errors of fact is termed a writ of error coram nobis from the Latin "before us." 

In civil cases, the writ of error has been expressly abolished by Rule 60 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP).  Prior to the enactment of subsections 60(b)(4)-(6), relief from judgment was available under the writ system authorized by 28 U.S.C. § 1651, the All Writs Act.  Relief from judgment in civil cases is now governed by Rule 59 and Rule 60 of the FRCP rather than the writ system.

In criminal cases, the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure provide an alternative to the writ of error.  In 1948, 28 U.S.C. § 2255 was enacted to provide a postconviction remedy consistent with the writ of error coram nobis and § 1651, the All Writs Act.  The remedy provided by § 2255 differs from the writ of habeas corpus in that it is requested by motion rather than a separate petition.  For this reason, a § 2255 motion is considered to be a continuation of the criminal case whose judgment is under attack rather than a new civil action.

Although § 2255 does not expressly abolish the writ of error, the writ no longer plays a significant role in criminal proceedings.  According to the Supreme Court, "it has become difficult to conceive of a situation in which the writ would be necessary or appropriate." See Carlisle v. United States, 517 U.S. 416, 429 (1996).

See Appellate Procedure