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

Keep scrolling for more

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 Nevertheless, Gitmo’s status as a strange carve-out to the American justice system remains worthy of attention, given that habeas corpus rights are denied to foreign nationals held prisoner there. Kyle Smith, National Review, "An Oversimplified Look at a Gitmo Detainee," 12 Feb. 2021 The Modesto Bee reported that the California Supreme Court made the ruling Tuesday in response to Peterson's petition for habeas corpus filed in 2015. CBS News, "Scott Peterson's 2004 murder convictions to be reexamined," 15 Oct. 2020 White two years ago filed a habeas corpus petition, seeking release over the agency’s treatment of his medical condition. oregonlive, "Judge finds Oregon Department of Corrections in contempt for ‘inhumane’ treatment of paralyzed inmate; orders man’s release," 15 Dec. 2020 His office will also establish a conviction integrity unit to review innocence claims, and a separate unit will examine writs of habeas corpus — conviction challenges that defendants can file after having exhausted the appeals process. NBC News, "Los Angeles' new district attorney announces sweeping reforms on first day," 8 Dec. 2020 Ali had also filed a habeas corpus petition claiming unlawful detention. Camilo Montoya-galvez, CBS News, "He faces deportation and COVID-19 while his wife battles the virus as an ICU nurse," 15 Oct. 2020 Attorney Richard Braucher filed the habeas corpus petition that led to last week’s court ruling. Jason Fagone, SFChronicle.com, "Newsom has been ordered to halve San Quentin’s population, but he may not release inmates," 26 Oct. 2020 A few years after the New Yorker article published, Lively filed a habeas corpus petition asking West Virginia to review the evidence in his case. Washington Post, "A flawed investigation left Jason Lively behind bars for 15 years for a fire he didn’t set. He’s not alone.," 22 Oct. 2020 More than 180 habeas corpus court cases are pending across the state by inmates already arguing that the prison conditions are unsafe, increasing their risk of contracting the coronavirus. oregonlive, "Inmate transfers for wildfires causing overcrowding and delays in medication, meals, bathroom access, families say," 14 Sep. 2020

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.

See More

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)

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about habeas corpus

Time Traveler for habeas corpus

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Listen to Our Podcast about habeas corpus

Statistics for habeas corpus

Last Updated

27 Feb 2021

Cite this Entry

“Habeas corpus.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/habeas%20corpus. Accessed 4 Mar. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLA Chicago APA Merriam-Webster

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for habeas corpus

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 habeas corpus (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

Comments on habeas corpus

What made you want to look up habeas corpus? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


Test Your Vocabulary

Who Knew?

How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!


Anagram puzzles meet word search.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!