Habeas Corpus

Good old habeas corpus, where would we be without you? The Great Writ. The hallmark of our justice system. Everyone knows it’s proof of our advanced and just society and we’re sure glad we have it, even if most of us have no idea what it is. Not to worry, here’s what you should know.

Habeas corpus is a constitutional right that provides protection against unlawful or improper detention. It is from Medieval Latin and means “that you have the body”. The complete phrase habeas corpus ad subjiciendum means “that you have the person for the purpose of subjecting him/her to [examination]”.

A writ of habeas corpus can be presented to a prison official requiring that a detained person be brought before a judge in a court of law to secure the person’s release unless lawful grounds can be shown for their lawful detention. Thanks to habeas corpus, we can’t be held against our will by any authority indefinitely or without just cause, which is no small thing. Serving as a check on the powers of government, it offers prisoners an early avenue to protest their imprisonment.

Our Founding Fathers didn’t invent habeas corpus; it had been a well-known procedure of English common law for hundreds of years. They did, however, ensure it would be followed over here as well by codifying it in Article One, Section Nine of the US Constitution, which states, “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.”

Thanks, Founding Fathers!

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