What is a Writ of Error?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 23 August 2019
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A writ of error is a legal writ issued when it is believed that errors of fact prejudiced the outcome of a legal case. It may also be known as an error coram nobis or error coram vobis. Writs of error can be used in several different legal systems to correct injustices caused by factual errors which occurred during trial. Generally, in order to issue such a writ, a judge must be shown that the errors had a material impact on the case, that the defendant had a reason for not coming forward earlier, and that the defendant has experienced repercussions as a result of the errors.

These writs cannot be used to dispute points of law agreed upon in the case. For this, an appeals court must review the case to determine whether or not the lower court returned a reasonable verdict. A writ of error may be used when evidence is deliberately withheld, as for example if the prosecution was in possession of exonerating evidence and did not turn it over in accordance with the rules of discovery. It can also be used when other errors of fact are identified on the trial record and it can be shown that those errors were important enough to influence the outcome of the trial.


The purpose of the writ of error is to ask a lower court to reexamine a case in light of the information, or to order a lower court to send its documentation to a higher court so that the documents pertaining to the case can be reviewed. This is done to correct a judgment which appears to have be returned in error as a result of having incomplete or inaccurate information. The facts in question must be shown to be relevant to the points of law used to arrive at a verdict in the trial.

One case in which a writ of error might be used is if someone has completed a sentence for a criminal activity and evidence emerges which demonstrates that this person was innocent. Although it is not possible to take back the prison time, the writ of error can be used to release the person from parole and to restore any rights which may have been taken away. Being exonerated can also be important socially, as people who have been convicted of committing criminal acts are often viewed with distrust and may find it difficult to get jobs, rent homes, or interact with other members of society.

Lawyers usually pursue every possible legal avenue after a conviction to explore appeals and the potential to overturn the conviction. In legal systems where a writ of error is appropriate and can be applied to a particular case, it is one of the options which may be pursued by an attorney or legal team to get a conviction examined again to determine whether or not it was fair.



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