What the heck is habeus corpus?

Correctly pronounce habeus corpus ad subjiciendum and you can have this card.

It’s not a dead body or something you can pick up from touching raw chicken.  People have asked me this question several times over the years.  They have seen the term in newspapers, on TV news, and have probably even seen William Shatner shouting about it on Boston Legal reruns.  It’s Latin, it sounds funny, and it doesn’t make much sense.

In Latin, habeus corpus means “you have the body.”  A writ of habeus corpus is a written judicial order to bring a party before a judge or court.  99% of the time, the writ is used to seek release from unlawful imprisonment.

The complete name for the order to release someone from unlawful imprisonment is habeus corpus ad subjiciendum, which is the Latin equivalent for Monopoly’s get out of jail free card.  (Just kidding, it truly is a serious matter).

Unfortunately, in our justice system, there are people that have been jailed and later proven innocent.  A writ of habeus corpus is the process by which the legality of someone’s imprisonment is tested.  For a recent example of great work by a Columbus attorney that saved death row inmate, Kevin Keith, from execution, read this.  After obtaining clemency from execution from Governor Ted Strickland, Rachel Troutman is now trying to get her client released from prison.  A writ of habeus corpus will start the way.