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Coram Nobis

CORAM NOBIS

[Latin, In our presence; before us.] The designation of a remedy for setting aside an erroneous judgment in a civil or criminal action that resulted from an error of fact in the proceeding.

In civil actions, a petition for a writ of coram nobis was addressed to the court in which the judgment was made, unlike an appeal, which is made to a superior court. The petition asserted that the court had made an erroneous judgment due to the defendant's excusable failure to make a valid defense as a result of fraud, duress, or excusable neglect, such as illness. Coram nobis could not be used where a party caused an error because of negligence.

The writ of coram nobis has been abolished in civil actions by the rules of federal civil procedure and similar provisions of state codes of civil procedure that, instead, establish different methods for setting aside judgments.

In criminal procedure, coram nobis serves the same purpose as it did in civil actions and is a recognized procedure in federal criminal prosecutions. Traditionally, it was available to direct the court's attention to information that did appear in the trial record and was not admitted into evidence because of fraud, duress, or excusable mistake. A defendant could not use coram nobis to relitigate the same charges if, through his or her own fault, such facts were not introduced as evidence.

Modern statutes have expanded the grounds for relief based upon the principles derived from the ancient writ of coram nobis. It is no longer a common-law remedy, but statutes provide for the vacation of a conviction and usually order a new trial if there is insufficient evidence to sustain the conviction, newly discovered evidence, erroneous instruction to the jury, or prejudicial comments or conduct by the prosecutor during the trial.

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