Habeas Corpus

Business, Legal & Accounting Glossary

Definition: Habeas Corpus


Quick Summary of Habeas Corpus


Latin for “You have the body.” A prisoner files a petition for writ of habeas corpus in order to challenge the authority of the prison or jail warden to continue to hold him. If the judge orders a hearing after reading the writ, the prisoner gets to argue that his confinement is illegal. These writs are frequently filed by convicted prisoners who challenge their conviction on the grounds that the trial attorney failed to prepare the defense and was incompetent. Prisoners sentenced to death also file habeas petitions challenging the constitutionality of the state death penalty law. Habeas writs are different from and do not replace appeals, which are arguments for reversal of a conviction based on claims that the judge conducted the trial improperly. Often, convicted prisoners file both.



What is the dictionary definition of Habeas Corpus?

Dictionary Definition


(hay-bee-us core-puss) n. Latin for “you have the body,” it is a writ (court order) which directs the law enforcement officials (prison administrators, police or sheriff) who have custody of a prisoner to appear in court with the prisoner to help the judge determine whether the prisoner is lawfully in prison or jail.

The writ is obtained by petition to a judge in the county or district where the prisoner is incarcerated, and the judge sets a hearing on whether there is a legal basis for holding the prisoner. Habeas corpus is a protection against illegal confinement, such as holding a person without charges, when due process obviously has been denied, bail is excessive, parole has been granted, an accused has been improperly surrendered by the bail bondsman or probation has been summarily terminated without cause.

Historically called “the great writ,” the renowned scholar of the Common Law, William Blackstone, called it the “most celebrated writ in English law.”

It may also be used as a means to contest child custody and deportation proceedings in court. The writ of habeas corpus can be employed procedurally in federal district courts to challenge the constitutionality of a state court conviction.


Full Definition of Habeas Corpus


Habeas Corpus is a writ of command that a person held for a crime must be presented before a judge. It literally means “you have the body.” An individual who is being held can petition the court for the writ to force the court to bring them before a judge to determine if the government has the legal right to continue to hold them. The Constitution allows for the suspension of the right of habeas corpus only “in cases of rebellion or invasion to the public safety.”

The founding fathers believed the concept of Habeas Corpus was necessary to eliminate the ability of the government to hold its citizens, thus preserving their “liberty, justice, and democracy.” This right was enshrined in the very first article of the United States’ Constitution and encompasses the idea that citizens have the fundamental right not to be held by the executive branch without cause. The right of Habeas Corpus only applies to United States’ citizens who are not determined to be “enemy combatants.”

Some political pundits have questioned if the prisoners of Guantanamo Bay should be considered “enemy combatants” and whether their rights are being infringed. Although the detainees are not U.S. citizens there have been charges they are being held illegally because the U.S. Government has not officially charged them with a crime but continues to detain them indefinitely.


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Definition Sources


Definitions for Habeas Corpus are sourced/syndicated and enhanced from:

  • A Dictionary of Economics (Oxford Quick Reference)
  • Oxford Dictionary Of Accounting
  • Oxford Dictionary Of Business & Management

This glossary post was last updated: 5th May, 2020 | 19 Views.