Posted on 1/29/18

There has been a recent increase in cases of complaints about police brutality. In Dallas and other places, there has been an uptick of arrests claimed to be unfair and racially motivated. When this occurs and you find yourself in jail, you can petition a court with a writ of habeas corpus.

Habeas Corpus Basics

The term habeas corpus is Latin for “you have the body” (corpus is similar to corpse). This means that the authorities currently are holding the person, or body, and that is improper due to procedural matters. The term is rooted in the Magna Carta, a document produced in the year 1215 with the agreement of King John, the monarch of England at the time. The concept, which was revolutionary at the time, asserted that no one should be imprisoned unjustly. Anyone who is unjustly imprisoned should be released immediately.

Utilizing the Writ

The Writ of Habeas Corpus is a petition to a federal court that a person is unjustly imprisoned. It is not utilized as a petition to contest the charges. If you believe that your Fourth Amendment rights of illegal search and seizure were violated and should therefore be released from prison, then that is a legitimate petition of Habeas Corpus. If you believe that you are wrongfully accused of murder because you acted in self-defense, then a Habeas Corpus petition is not relevant to you. In other words, it does not provide you with a defense of the charges; rather, it allows you to go free because there are technical issues with your stay in prison.

As such, only if you are currently in prison can you file a Writ of Habeas Corpus. You can also only submit the Writ to a federal court. If you are out on bail and fear returning to prison, the writ cannot help you.

Purpose of the Writ of Habeas Corpus  

Under American law, the concept of a right to a Habeas Corpus position is to protect people from unjust states so that you will not languish in prison indefinitely. As the Supreme Court noted in the case of Harris v Nelson, “[t]he writ of habeas corpus is the fundamental instrument for safeguarding individual freedom against arbitrary and lawless state action. Its preeminent role is recognized by the admonition in the Constitution that: ‘The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended. . .’ U.S. Const., Art. I, § 9, cl. 2.”

Procedural Case

While in prison, you can submit a petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus. Once accepted, a court will bring you before a judge to hear your case. Your lawyer will argue how your case contravenes fairness based on federal law. The prosecution will counter that your prison term is fair based on federal law. If the judge accepts your argument, you will be free, pending charges.

Arrested? Facing criminal charges? Do not fight the fight alone. Contact the criminal defense firm of Christopher Abel, a Flowermound criminal defense attorney.

(image courtesy of Tanner van Dera)

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