habeas corpus

noun

ha·​be·​as cor·​pus ˈhā-bē-əs-ˈkȯr-pəs How to pronounce habeas corpus (audio)
1
: any of several common-law writs issued to bring a party before a court or judge
2
: the right of a citizen to obtain a writ of habeas corpus as a protection against illegal imprisonment

Did you know?

The literal meaning of habeas corpus is "you should have the body"—that is, the judge or court should (and must) have any person who is being detained brought forward so that the legality of that person's detention can be assessed. In United States law, habeas corpus ad subjiciendum (the full name of what habeas corpus typically refers to) is also called "the Great Writ," and it is not about a person's guilt or innocence, but about whether custody of that person is lawful under the U.S. Constitution. Common grounds for relief under habeas corpus—"relief" in this case being a release from custody—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.

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 In 1861, President Abraham Lincoln defied Chief Justice Taney’s order that prohibited him from suspending habeas corpus clauses in the Constitution without the approval of Congress. Thomas Geoghegan, The New Republic, 8 May 2023 Myers legally had until March 15, 2003 to file a federal habeas corpus petition, according to court records. Ivana Hrynkiw | Ihrynkiw@al.com, al, 26 Jan. 2023 In March Hill, who is indigent as are 90% of all those convicted on federal charges, filed a habeas corpus motion from his prison cell in Edgefield. Walter Pavlo, Forbes, 4 June 2022 The announcement comes a day after an attorney for van der Sloot filed a habeas corpus petition against his client’s temporary transfer from a Peru prison to the US. Josh Campbell, CNN, 8 June 2023 Wednesday’s habeas corpus petition argues that new evidence suggests Jose Menendez abused other children and continued to abuse Erik Menendez. Salvador Hernandez, Los Angeles Times, 4 May 2023 That kind of change is not just an artifact of twentieth-century totalitarianism and has happened fairly frequently in the US—Gessen cites Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus, the Sedition Act of 1918, and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Hari Kunzru, The New York Review of Books, 4 June 2020 Connolly's filing further alleges that Lowenthal improperly deemed a legal brief filed in connection with the case a habeas corpus petition to have the case dismissed entirely. Michael Ruiz, Fox News, 31 Mar. 2023 The motion argues that habeas corpus is the wrong legal argument under which to seek relief. Kyle Melnick, Washington Post, 22 Feb. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'habeas corpus.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

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

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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

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Cite this Entry

“Habeas corpus.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/habeas%20corpus. Accessed 6 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition

habeas corpus

noun
ha·​be·​as cor·​pus ˌhā-bē-ə-ˈskȯr-pəs How to pronounce habeas corpus (audio)
1
: a legal order for an inquiry to determine whether a person has been lawfully imprisoned
2
: the right of a citizen to obtain a writ of habeas corpus as a protection against illegal imprisonment
Etymology

derived from the Latin phrase, meaning literally "you should have the body," used as the opening words of a legal order to jailers to bring the prisoner to court

Legal Definition

habeas corpus

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

Etymology

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

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