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habeas corpus

(hay-bee-us core-puss) n. Latin for "you have the body," it is a writ (court order) which directs the law enforcement officials (prison administrators, police or sheriff) who have custody of a prisoner to appear in court with the prisoner to help the judge determine whether the prisoner is lawfully in prison or jail. The writ is obtained by petition to a judge in the county or district where the prisoner is incarcerated, and the judge sets a hearing on whether there is a legal basis for holding the prisoner. Habeas corpus is a protection against illegal confinement, such as holding a person without charges, 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. Historically called "the great writ," the renowned scholar of the Common Law, William Blackstone, called it the "most celebrated writ in English law." It may also be used as a means to contest child custody and deportation proceedings in court. The writ of habeas corpus can be employed procedurally in federal district courts to challenge the constitutionality of a state court conviction.


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