habeas corpus

ha·​be·​as cor·​pus | \ ˈhā-bē-əs-ˈkȯr-pəs How to pronounce habeas corpus (audio) \

Definition of habeas corpus

1 : any of several common-law writs issued to bring a party before a court or judge especially : habeas corpus ad subjiciendum
2 : the right of a citizen to obtain a writ of habeas corpus as a protection against illegal imprisonment

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Did You Know?

The literal meaning of habeas corpus is "You shall have the body"—that is, the judge must have the person charged with a crime brought into the courtroom to hear what he's been charged with. Through much of human history, and in many countries still today, a person may be imprisoned on the orders of someone in the government and kept behind bars for years without ever getting a chance to defend himself, or even knowing what he's done wrong. In England, the right to be brought before a judge to hear the charges and answer them was written into law over 300 years ago, and the U.S. adopted the British practice in its Constitution.

Examples of habeas corpus in a Sentence

apply for a writ of habeas corpus

Recent Examples on the Web

The provision, part of Article 34, is a version of the habeas corpus rights rooted in centuries of Anglo-American law. Peter Landers, WSJ, "Carlos Ghosn to Get First Public Hearing," 4 Jan. 2019 Connecticut’s habeas corpus process, designed to safeguard against unjust imprisonment, is overwhelmed and broken. David Owens, courant.com, "Connecticut Courts Overwhelmed With Inmates' Petitions For Release," 11 May 2018 Lincoln had his own problems with the Supreme Court, ignoring its ruling the President had no authority to suspend habeas corpus, even in wartime. Bill Mears, Fox News, "The 'forgotten' Supreme Court decision and its impact on our politics," 9 Sep. 2018 Extending habeas corpus: In 2008, Kennedy was the fifth vote that gave terrorism suspects being held at Guantanamo Bay the right to challenge their detention in civilian courts. James Hohmann, Washington Post, "The Daily 202: Five times Anthony Kennedy was the fifth vote shows the significance of his retirement," 28 June 2018 That’s because in a habeas corpus case the issue is whether a trial judge did something that was within the range authorized by law — not whether the law required the death penalty. Mark Tushnet, Vox, "Is it anti-Catholic to ask a Supreme Court nominee how her religion affects her decisions?," 5 July 2018 That move would render moot John Doe's habeas corpus petition challenging the right of the U.S. to continue holding him without charges. NBC News, "U.S. plans to release detained American 'enemy combatant' in Syria," 7 June 2018 In 2010 a federal judge ordered Slahi's release through a petition of habeas corpus, declaring the Mauritanian unlawfully detained. Carol Rosenberg, miamiherald, "A freed Guantánamo prisoner and his ex-guard meet again in remarkable Ramadan reunion," 11 June 2018 The plan was the latest twist in a habeas corpus case that has raised novel legal issues about the rights of individual Americans and the government’s wartime powers. Charlie Savage, New York Times, "American ISIS Suspect Fights Plan to Release Him in Syria," 7 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'habeas corpus.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of habeas corpus

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for habeas corpus

Middle English, from Medieval Latin, literally, you should have the body (the opening words of the writ)

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The first known use of habeas corpus was in the 15th century

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habeas corpus


English Language Learners Definition of habeas corpus

law : an order to bring a jailed person before a judge or court to find out if that person should really be in jail

habeas corpus

habeas cor·​pus | \ -ˈkȯr-pəs, -ˌpu̇s How to pronounce habeas corpus (audio) \

Legal Definition of habeas corpus

: any of several writs originating at common law that are issued to bring a party before the court especially : habeas corpus ad subjiciendum in this entry 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 U.S. Constitution art. I
habeas corpus ad faciendum et recipiendum \ -​ˌad-​ˌfa-​sē-​ˈen-​dəm-​et-​ri-​ˌsi-​pē-​ˈen-​dəm, -​ˌfa-​shē-​ˈen-​; -​ˌäd-​ˌfä-​kē-​ˈen-​du̇m-​et-​rā-​ˌkē-​pē-​ˈen-​du̇m \ New Latin, literally, you should have the body for doing and receiving
: habeas corpus cum causa in this entry
habeas corpus ad prosequendum \ -​ˌad-​ˌprä-​si-​ˈkwen-​dəm, -​ˌäd-​ˌprō-​sā-​ˈkwen-​du̇m \ New Latin, literally, you should have the body for prosecuting
: a writ for removing a prisoner for trial in the jurisdiction of the issuing court where the prisoner committed a crime
habeas corpus ad subjiciendum \ -​ˌad-​səb-​ˌji-​sē-​ˈen-​dəm, -​ˌji-​shē-​; -​ˌäd-​su̇b-​ˌyi-​kē-​ˈen-​du̇m How to pronounce -ˌad-səb-ˌji-sē-ˈen-dəm, -ˌji-shē-; -ˌäd-su̇b-ˌyi-kē-ˈen-du̇m (audio) \ New Latin, literally, you should have the body for submitting
: an extraordinary writ issued upon a petition challenging the lawfulness of restraining a person who is imprisoned or otherwise in another's custody

called also the Great Writ

Note: Habeas corpus ad subjiciendum is an extraordinary remedy, and is by far the most frequently used writ of habeas corpus. It is an independent civil action and a form of collateral attack to determine not the guilt or innocence of the person held in custody, but whether the custody is unlawful under the U.S. Constitution. Common grounds for relief under the writ include a conviction based on illegally obtained evidence, a denial of effective assistance of counsel, or a conviction by a jury that was improperly selected and impaneled. The degree of restraint on a person's liberty that is necessary to constitute custody entitling a person to habeas corpus relief is not viewed uniformly by the courts. Use of the writ is not limited to criminal matters. It is also available in civil matters, as, for example, to challenge a person's custody of a child or the institutionalization of a person declared incompetent.

habeas corpus ad testificandum \ -​ˌad-​ˌtes-​ti-​fi-​ˈkan-​dəm, -​ˌäd-​ˌtes-​tē-​fē-​ˈkän-​du̇m \ New Latin, literally, you should have the body for testifying
: a writ for bringing a person into a court as a witness
habeas corpus cum causa \ -​ˌkəm-​ˈkȯ-​zə, -​ˌku̇m-​ˈkau̇-​sä \ New Latin, literally, you should have the body with the cause
: a writ issued from a superior court to an inferior court requiring that a defendant be produced along with the cause for which the defendant has been taken and held

called also habeas corpus ad faciendum et recipiendum

History and Etymology for habeas corpus

Medieval Latin, literally, you should have the body (the opening words of the writ)

More from Merriam-Webster on habeas corpus

Nglish: Translation of habeas corpus for Spanish Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about habeas corpus

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