Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How can you attack the enforcement of a judgment in federal court?

The Writ of Audita Querela.

(WARNING:  The following post is not exactly riveting, but you never know when you might need it)

What exactly is a writ of Audita Querela? A writ of audita querela is a process whereby a convicted person may collaterally attack the enforcement of the judgment (but not the judgment itself) due to matters that arise after the judgment is issued. But rather than try to explain it, I'll just let the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals tell you about it:
The writ of audita querela is a common law writ dating from the reign of Edward III that constitutes the initial process in an action brought by a judgment defendant to obtain relief against the consequences of the judgment on the ground that some defense or discharge has arisen since its rendition that could not be taken advantage of otherwise. Audita querela is distinguished from coram nobis in that coram nobis attacks the judgment itself, whereas audita querela is directed against the enforcement, or further enforcement, of a judgment which, when rendered, was just and unimpeachable. In other words, a writ of coram nobis attacks a judgment that was infirm at the time it was rendered for reasons that later came to light, while a writ of audita querela is used to challenge a judgment that was correct at the time it was rendered but which is made infirm by matters that arose after its rendition.

Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure expressly abolished the application of the writ of audita querela to civil judgments in 1948. However, the reasoning of the Supreme Court's opinion in United States v. Morgan, 74 S.Ct. 247 (1954), may allow the writ to be used to attack a criminal judgment. In Morgan, the Court held that the writ of coram nobis, which Rule 60(b) also had abolished in civil cases, was still available in criminal proceedings under the All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1651(a), where it was needed to fill a gap in the federal post-conviction remedial scheme. Accordingly, we have, as have several other circuits, acknowledged, with some reservation, that the writ of audita querela might also survive in criminal adjudications, if there is a gap for it to fill. We have yet to encounter a case that has required us to decide squarely whether or not the writ of audita querela survives in criminal cases.
Nevertheless, we have held that, if the writ survives, it can only be available where there is a legal objection to a judgment which has arisen subsequent to that judgment. Purely equitable grounds for relief do not justify the issuance of a writ of audita querela. Furthermore, the writ is only available where the legal objection raised cannot be brought pursuant to any other post-conviction remedy. This limitation follows from the reasoning of Morgan, which allows relief pursuant to a writ of audita querela only where a gap exists in the system of federal post-conviction remedies.

Taken from U.S. v. Miller, No. 08-11186, filed March 8, 2010.