Habeas Corpus definition

Habeas Corpus is a latin term which translates to “that you have the body.” It is a writ used check arbitrary or illegal detention by producing a prisoner or detainee before a court of competent jurisdiction for determination on the validity of their detention or imprisonment.

For example a federal court in the US may use a habeas writ to determine the validity of the imprisonment of a person by a state. Proceedings of a habeas writ are civil and are filed against the detaining agent (E.g A prison warden).

A habeas corpus petition may be used to investigate any procedures used in an extradition process, check bail amount as well as the authority of the court to adjudicate in a case.

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Habeas Corpus prerequisites

The US Federal statutes (28 U.S.C. §§ 2241–2256) states that there are two prerequisites for a Habeas Corpus review.

  • When the habeas corpus writ is filed, the petitioner must already be in custody
  • If the petitioner is held in state government custody, he/she must have exhausted all options available at the state level to seek redress, including state appellate review.

History of the Habeas Corpus

The habeas corpus first appeared in the Magna Carta in the year 1215, with clause 39 stating “No man shall be arrested or imprisoned…except by the lawful judgment of his peers and by the law of the land,”.

The Habeas started as opposition to the kings power to arbitrarily incarcerate people in UK and also the practice of law enforcement officers at the time imprisoning people.

The law was adopted by the founding fathers of the US with James Madison, in 1789, arguing strongly for the adoption of the Bill of Rights and the Habeas Corpus.

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Habeas facts in the US

Enshrined in the US constitution is an article which expressly make the privileges of a habeas writ inalienable, except in special circumstances.

Article I, Section 9, Clause 2 of the US constitution states that: “The Privileges of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended unless when in Cases of Rebellion of Invasion the public Safety may require it.”

Only congress has the authority to suspend a habeas writ which can be exercised in two ways:

  • Affirmative actions of congress
  • delegation of power to the executive.

Applications of a Habeas corpus writ

Habeas writ mostly applies in the following situations

  • to inquire into the legality of the application of federal laws in legal proceedings leading to imprisonment.
  • To challenge detention in immigration or deportation cases
  • In the military, a habeas writ can be used to inquire into military detentions, court proceedings before military commissions, and convictions in military court.

It is also used to determine preliminary matters in criminal cases, such as:

  • an adequate basis for detention;
  • removal to another federal district court;
  • the denial of bail or parole;
  • a claim of double jeopardy;
  • the legality of extradition to a foreign country etc.