habeas corpus

Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day for February 23, 2021 is:

habeas corpus • HAY-bee-us-KOR-pus  • noun

1 : any of several common-law writs issued to bring a party before a court or judge; especially : a writ for inquiring into the lawfulness of the restraint of a person who is imprisoned or detained in another’s custody

2 : the right of a citizen to obtain a writ of habeas corpus as a protection against illegal imprisonment


“Embraced by America’s founders, the Great Writ, as [habeas corpus is] colloquially known, is enshrined in the Constitution, statutory law, and case law, where it guarantees certain rights to the detained. Habeas corpus entitles detainees convicted in state courts to appeal to federal courts if they believe their rights were violated at trial or during sentencing.” — Elizabeth Bruenig, The New York Times, 18 Jan. 2021

“[Assistant to the Solicitor General Vivek] Suri … underscored the availability of habeas corpus relief under Zadvydas v. Davis, a 2001 decision in which the Supreme Court recognized an opportunity for those detained under Section 1231 to seek judicial review once it appeared that there was no significant likelihood of removal.” — Gabriel Chin, SCOTUSblog, 12 Jan. 2021

Did you know?

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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