Constitutional FAQ Answer #22
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Q22. "What is habeas corpus? What does a writ of
habeas corpus do?"
A. Habeas corpus is a pretty tricky legal concept. Its most common practical
effect in U.S. law is that no person can be jailed without being charged with a
crime. It also gives convicted criminals the right to challenge their
convictions and sentences on the grounds that his or her right to due process
was violated in some way. In death penalty cases, habeas corpus challenges are
one of the most common types of challenge. The restriction of habeas corpus,
such as limiting appeals to one year from the time of conviction, or limited
the number of appeals, are touted by law-and-order types as the best way to
punish criminals as they were meant to be punished, the way the judge and jury
decide they should be punished.
Personally, I think that the guarantee of habeas corpus is one of our most
important liberties, and its restriction should not be taken lightly by anyone.
The Constitution is pretty clear on the matter. Precisely, it states "The
privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in
cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it." I see no
such case in our everyday society, even for terrorists (another category of
criminal that restrictions of habeas corpus has been proposed).