habeas corpus

The law says if the government is keeping a person in jail, it is obligated to explain why: when someone legally demands such an explanation, the order is called a writ of habeas corpus.

It would be pretty bad if the government could imprison you for no reason with no explanation, right? That can happen in totalitarian countries, but in democracies we depend on habeas corpus, which requires a judge to release someone when there's no lawful reason to imprison them. Like most legalese, habeas corpus is Latin, literally "You should have the person," and it means a person can’t be locked up without explanation or trial — they must be brought before a judge.

Definitions of habeas corpus
  1. noun
    a writ ordering a prisoner to be brought before a judge
    synonyms: writ of habeas corpus
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    type of:
    judicial writ, writ
    (law) a legal document issued by a court or judicial officer
  2. noun
    the civil right to obtain a writ of habeas corpus as protection against illegal imprisonment
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    type of:
    civil right
    right or rights belonging to a person by reason of citizenship including especially the fundamental freedoms and privileges guaranteed by the 13th and 14th amendments and subsequent acts of Congress including the right to legal and social and economic equality
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