Coram nobis should be used only under certain circumstances compelling such action to achieve justice and to correct errors of the most fundamental character, such as a complete miscarriage of justice and where there are exceptional circumstances. Coram nobis also lies for a claim of prosecutorial impropriety and is appropriate where the procedure by which guilt is ascertained is under attack. I is also designed to maintain public confidence in the administration of justice.
In 1942, petitioner Korematsu was convicted of being in a place from which all persons of Japanese ancestry were excluded pursuant to Civilian Exclusion Order No. 34. He brought a petition for a writ of coram nobis to vacate his conviction on the grounds of governmental misconduct.
Was Korematsu’s conviction erroneous on the grounds of governmental misconduct?
The Court granted the petition and held that a writ of coram nobis was an appropriate remedy by which the court could correct errors in criminal convictions. The government agreed petitioner was entitled to relief. However, even where the government agreed, the court must conduct some review. The statute under which the citizen was convicted was repealed; but it was not proper or necessary to take judicial notice of the specific Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians conclusions. Omitted from the reports presented to the courts was information possessed by the Federal Communications Commission, the Department of the Navy, and the Justice Department. Thus, the Court had before it a selective record and where relevant evidence was withheld, it was ample justification for the government's concurrence that the conviction should be set aside.