Habeas Corpus: Know Your Rights of Liberty

In the criminal justice system, the concept of habeas corpus is an important act that can save a person from being held in custody. However, if yourself or someone you know is in a situation where they are put behind bars without a valid reason, you might not be aware that you are legally entitled to call upon this act.

This is where a criminal defense attorney can step in and use this clause of the constitution.

If the concept of habeas corpus is new for you, you are about to learn why this act is worth knowing and how someone who is in incarceration can get their freedom back with a help of an attorney.

History of Habeas Corpus

Literally translated, habeas corpus means “you have the body”.  It comes from the Latin language, but it is first introduced in England in 1215 as part of the Magna Carta signed by King John. As it was stated in the clause, “no man shall be imprisoned except by the lawful judgment of his peers and by the law of the land”.

The concept was adopted in the U.S. by the Founding Father and to this day, habeas corpus stands as a legal act against holding someone in prison without sufficient evidence.

Use of Habeas Corpus Today

Habeas corpus today is mainly used as a post-conviction way to challenge the verdict. Calling upon this act means that the detainee is disagreeing with the legality of the federal laws procedure and their use in the judicial process.

Habeas corpus can also be a beneficial act to call upon in cases of military detention or deportation.

Its application is also valid in cases of denial of bail or parole, detention with the purpose of extradition to a foreign country and failure to have a timely trial or hearing.

In all of these cases, submitting a writ of habeas corpus acts as a protection against unlawful incarceration and the writ is based on solid evidence it can result in a release from imprisonment.

Habeas corpus can also be used in cases where the prisoner believes that their sentence was unrightful for the crime or if they believe that their sentence wasn’t reduced enough as a reward for a good time.

Limitations of Habeas Corpus

A writ of habeas corpus cannot determine whether the defendant is guilty or not; it simply questions the validity of the detainment. To challenge whether the defendant is guilty or not, an appeal needs to be submitted to a state or federal court. In that sense, habeas corpus has its limitations.

Also, habeas corpus is not appropriate in cases where the detainee believes that he has been mistreated during incarceration or if the living conditions in the place of detainment are very poor. A civil rights complaint needs to be submitted, but that is only possible after all administrative grievance procedures have been exhausted.

How The Procedure Works

If a person believes that they are unlawfully detained, they can file a petition for writ of habeas corpus. This means that the authority holding the person detained must appear in court together with the detainee and justify the reasons why the person is being held imprisoned. Failure to present sufficient evidence can result in the imprisonment being overturned, at least until sufficient evidence is obtained.

The same act applies to cases where bail is denied. If the defendant can prove that they had been denied bail even though there are no legitimate reasons why they should remain in custody until the sentencing (no risk of repeating the crime and no risk of fleeing the country), they can be granted release.

If both parties present inconclusive statements to support their claims, the judge might call upon an evidentiary hearing where both parties can present evidence, or in more extreme cases they can enforce a subpoena.

Both parties must comply with the requirements of the subpoena, otherwise, that can be considered as a criminal penalty. Not complying with the subpoena may result in a fine or jail time.

The possible outcomes of the writ of habeas corpus if the defense presented a solid case can be the following:

  • Release from detainment
  • Having the prison sentence reduced
  • An order to stop the illegal confinement conditions

How Can an Attorney Help

Without the help of the attorney, you might not even know about this act and how you can challenge the confinement and seek liberation. Even though this is a very old act in the Constitution, not too many people are aware of it and they can miss out an opportunity to fight their way to liberation or a reduced sentence.

An experienced attorney in the field of criminal justice can help you look at all of the options at your disposal and decide if you have solid grounds of calling upon the habeas corpus act.

Even though, in theory, filing a petition for habeas corpus might seem simple, defending your grounds in front of a judge might be much more challenging than you expect. An attorney with good knowledge of civil rights and criminal laws can help you build a solid case for your hearing and get the best out of the situation.

Habeas corpus is in force for a very long time and the reasons for its existence are completely justifiable. Calling upon this act might be the thing that makes a difference between time behind bars or time enjoying life. By choosing to contact an attorney, you are giving yourself the best chances of walking away as a free person. If you are inexperienced in the legal procedures, don’t blow your chances for victory by doing it yourself – a good attorney can lead your way to freedom.

Liz S. Coyle is the Director of Client Services for JacksonWhite Attorneys at Law. She also serves as a paralegal for the Family Law Department. She is responsible for internal and external communications for the firm.