Habeas Corpus – The Origins and Development of a Legal Doctrine

Geoffrey Scovil

Attorney Geoffrey “Geoff” Scovil represents clients through his private practice in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he focuses on habeas corpus law. To train for his legal career, Geoffrey Scovil earned his J.D. from the Case Western Reserve University School of Law, where he graduated cum laude.

Habeas corpus, a Latin term translating as “produce the body,” is a legal doctrine against improper imprisonment. The doctrine has roots going back more than 800 years. In the early 13th century, a document called the Magna Carta was signed by King John of England, enshrining certain rights, including the right not to be imprisoned unlawfully.

However, although the Magna Carta did establish that right, it did not outline a legal procedure by which it could be enforced. In the 17th century, the Parliament of England made this right enforceable under the Habeas Corpus Acts, which together had an enormous influence inside and outside the country.

For example, the founding fathers of the United States frequently discussed habeas corpus. In fact, habeas corpus is enumerated explicitly in Article 1, Section 9.2 of the U.S. Constitution. Interestingly, the Constitution affords legal suspension of habeas corpus in the event of emergencies like a rebellion.

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