Habeas Corpus (Latin, roughly meaning “you should have the body”) is a legal principle that originated in the middle ages in England, and has been a central principle in every legal system based on England’s ever since. This includes the United States.
Essentially, habeas corpus allows anyone imprisoned by the government to challenge their detention as unlawful. It requires the official responsible for the detention (usually a prison warden) to show that there is authority and legal cause to detain the applicant.
As it is currently understood, almost anyone in prison can file a writ of habeas corpus in a state or federal court, alleging that their detention is unlawful under the constitution or laws of their state, or the constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.
Recent federal laws have made it much more difficult to file a writ of habeas corpus in federal court. Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, there is a 1-year statute of limitations for filing a writ of habeas corpus in federal court. It also requires federal courts, on appeal, to give far more deference to the decisions of lower courts in the same matter.
The United States Constitution allows the right of habeas corpus to be suspended when “in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.” This power has only been specifically invoked during the Civil War.
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Last Modified: 07-08-2009 09:50 AM PDT
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