28 U.S.C. 2254 allows a person in state custody to ask the federal district court to review decisions made regarding federal constitutional violations. It must be filed within one year of the conviction becoming final in the state court. The petition itself must contain all of the constitutional claims raised in either the direct appeal or in post conviction proceedings.
The courts will review the decision of the state court. They must then determine if the court applied the correct standard to the decision and if so, was it reasonable. In the alternative, they have to determine if the court’s application of the facts were reasonable.
This either/or analysis is the result of the 1996 Anti Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act signed by then President Bill Clinton. It was meant to, as the name implies, speed up the appellate process in death penalty cases. While it has not sped up the process it has created a process more concerned about procedural obstacles than the sum and substance of the underlying claims.
Normally, this is the last good hope to over turn a conviction in this country. If the federal court will throw out your conviction, then you most likely going to get a new trial.