Nolo's Plain-English Law Dictionary
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- Habeas Corpus
- (hay-bee-us kor-pus) 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 or her. If the judge orders a hearing after reading the writ, that becomes the prisoner's opportunity to argue that the confinement is illegal. Habeas corpus is an important protection against illegal confinement, once called "the great writ." For example, it can be used in cases where a person is being held without charges, or 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. A particularly frequent use of habeas writs is by convicted prisoners arguing 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. Note that 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.