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.
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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 WebBench began in the 17th century to permit women and their children to utilize habeas corpus to escape abusive men.
Lawrence Wright, The New Yorker, 28 Feb. 2022 Hill filed a habeas corpus lawsuit in South Carolina.
Walter Pavlo, Forbes, 4 June 2022 The Lincoln example appears to be a reference to Lincoln’s decision to suspend habeas corpus during the Civil War without congressional approval, on which Congress later retroactively signed off.
Matt Ford, The New Republic, 3 Mar. 2022 In 1997, Dunn filed a habeas corpus petition in federal court.
Chris Pomorski, The New Republic, 23 June 2022 His lawyers say in a habeas corpus petition filed Tuesday in federal court in Washington that the government has taken no apparent steps toward his release.
Ben Fox, BostonGlobe.com, 8 June 2022 The NhRP’s legal argument revolves around the idea of habeas corpus, which protects against unlawful imprisonment.
Zoe Sottile, CNN, 22 May 2022 The case also builds on the legal history of habeas corpus.
Zoe Sottile, CNN, 22 May 2022 Genuine national security measures, such as the location of secret command centers, can be protected without the suspension of habeas corpus or freedom of the press.
William S. Cohen And Gary Hart, CNN, 4 May 2022 See More
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.
: any of several writs originating at common law that are issued to bring a party before the courtespecially: 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 \
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 alsothe Great Writ
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 alsohabeas 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)