Washington Law Review


Jack J. Lobdell


The Supreme Court of Washington has described the writ of habeas corpus as being the appropriate remedy for a person who has been illegally deprived of his liberty. This description was made by way of preface to a holding that emphatically denied use of the writ by one who claimed such illegal deprivation. The reason for the denial was found by the court to lie in a settled rule at common law, which has been preserved by statute, which is generally as follows: the writ will not lie where the petitioner is held on a final judgment of a court of competent jurisdiction where the judgment is fair on its face. The great number of cases in which this rule is stated and used to deny relief indicates that incarcerated persons continue to submit petitions with more optimism than appears warranted. It is the purpose of this comment to discuss this limitation upon inquiry and to reveal what its actual effect is. The rule is perhaps more meaningfully stated as follows: the writ will lie only if the judgment by virtue of which the petitioner is committed is void. The judgment is void if (1) the court had no jurisdiction over the person; (2) the court had no jurisdiction over the subject matter; or (3) there was a lack of authority to pronounce the particular judgment or sentence involved. Moreover, those facts which render the judgment void must affirmatively appear on the face of the judgment pleaded. An examination of the cases shows that this last statement cannot be made without an expression of some qualifications which will be dealt with at length later. It is sufficient to say, now, that, as a general proposition, it is sound. It is the author's intention to discuss the three categories separately and in order.

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