An Introduction to Habeas Corpus

 

Geoffrey Scovil

Attorney Geoffrey “Geoff” Scovil practices law in Albuquerque, New Mexico. With more than 20 years of experience trying criminal cases, he now primarily focuses on habeas corpus law. Geoffrey Scovil’s practice centers on post-conviction constitutional challenges to sentences, trials and the effectiveness of representation in serious criminal cases.

Habeas corpus, translated from the Latin as “that you have the body” is a fundamental principle of the United States justice system. It protects individuals from being held in custody without just cause and may be used as a challenge not only to detention but also to extradition, bail, or jurisdiction of the court.

Habeas corpus as an element of jurisprudence dates back to the 39th clause of the Magna Carta, signed by King John of England in 1215. Although its original purpose was to prevent the king from locking people away at his own whim, it ultimately became a way to protect citizens from imprisonment by constables and others who claimed legal authority.

When the Founding Fathers gathered to write the US Constitution, they insisted on the inclusion of habeas corpus. Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution prevents its suspension except in cases of public safety.

Federal law grants prisoners the right to file a petition for habeas corpus, provided that the person is in custody at the time of filing. State prisoners must have already gone through all other available processes to challenge detentions.

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