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.

Five Tips for Finding a Criminal Defense Attorney

New Mexico Legal Aid
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A criminal defense attorney in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Geoffrey Scovil handles cases involving habeas corpus law and violations of constitutional rights. Geoffrey Scovil has more than 20 years of experience in handling criminal trials, an important consideration for individuals seeking legal representation. The following list includes tips for hiring legal counsel if accused of a criminal offense.

1. Consider practice areas. A criminal offense charge can refer to a wide range of crimes, from driving under the influence and white collar crimes to larceny and drug-related offenses. Begin your search with attorneys who focus on the specific type of crime you are accused of. You can check the attorney’s website for a list of practice areas.

2. Examine courtroom history. You will need an attorney with courtroom experience if your case goes to trial, so take time to review the case history of any attorney you consider. The attorney’s ability to present your case can significantly affect the outcome.

3. Look for negotiation experience. An attorney with excellent negotiating skills can help you obtain the best deal if the facts of the case make a plea bargain your best option for resolution.

4. Seek references. Conduct research on potential attorneys and look for references beyond the testimonials on their website. You can also ask other attorneys for recommendations.

5. Trust your instincts. Take the time to find an attorney you feel comfortable with and trust your gut instinct when meeting with them for the first time. Look for someone who can explain things clearly and expresses interest in your opinions. In addition, be wary of attorneys who make promises about the expected outcome. No one can guarantee a certain result.

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.