Writ of Habeas Corpus

In many countries, authorities may take citizens and incarcerate them for months or years without charging them. Those imprisoned have no legal means by which they can protest or challenge the imprisonment. The framers of the U. S. Constitution wanted to prohibit this kind of occurrence in the new United States. Therefore, they included a clause in the Constitution that allows courts to issue writs of habeas corpus. Many states also recognize writs of habeas corpus in addition to the federal government. The U. S. Constitution also specifically prohibits the government from suspending proceedings for writs of habeas corpus except under extraordinary circumstances such as during times of war.

How Does Habeas Corpus Work?

Defendants who are considering challenging the legal basis of their imprisonment, its duration, or certain conditions of confinement may seek relief from a court by filing an application for a "writ of habeas corpus." A writ of habeas corpus (which literally means to "produce the body") is a court order to a person or agency holding someone in custody (such as a warden) to deliver the imprisoned individual to the court issuing the order and to show a valid reason for that person's detention.

Sometimes, especially where there are disputed facts, the court may hold an evidentiary hearing before ruling on a writ of habeas corpus. During the hearing, the parties (the prisoner and the government) can present evidence and the court may also issue and enforce subpoenas in order to obtain and examine evidence. If challenging the present basis for a detention, a prisoner may include evidence that his or her sentence was miscalculated or that good time credits earned by the prisoner were not properly awarded. If an evidentiary hearing is held, the court will usually appoint an attorney to represent the prisoner.

If granted, a writ of habeas corpus could lead to relief such as:

  • Release from custody;
  • Reduction in a prison sentence;
  • An order halting illegal conditions of confinement; or
  • A declaration of rights.

Limitations of Habeas Corpus

While Habeas Corpus allows prisoners to challenge the fact of their present confinement, it does have its limitations. Specifically, these writs cannot be used to challenge a finding of guilt as that is reserved for the criminal appeal process. Also, in many cases where prisoners are challenging the conditions of their confinement, they may be required to use the civil rights complaint process instead of habeas corpus.

When it comes to appealing guilty verdicts, prisoners are normally required to first exhaust any available relief in the state courts before seeking relief in federal courts. However, when seeking to remedy violations of their constitutional rights while in confinement, prisoners can file their complaint in either state or federal court. They can bypass state courts with these complaints because they typically include claims under provisions of the U.S. constitution, such as the Eighth Amendment. However, when challenging conditions of confinement through a civil rights complaint, the Prison Litigation Reform Act requires that prisoners first exhaust all administrative grievance procedures before filing their complaint.

Get Legal Help Understanding Writ of Habeas Corpus

If you believe you're being detained without adequate proof of guilt, you may consider filing a writ of habeas corpus to force the prosecution's hand. After all, it's your right as a suspect or defendant. Get started today by contacting a skilled criminal defense attorney near you to discuss your situation.

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