Known as the “Great Writ,” habeas corpus goes back to English common law before it was guaranteed by the Magna Carta and Habeas Corpus Act. The United States Constitution provides, in its main text, that “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.” Habeas corpus is Latin for “You shall have the body” and is used to challenge illegal imprisonment. Although it tends to deal with people charged or convicted of crimes, it is essentially a civil process. A petitioner (person detained or otherwise imprisoned by the government) petitions a court for a writ of a habeas corpus. The writ is a court order requiring the detaining authority to produce the person and provide the justification for the imprisonment. If it is determined that there imprisonment is illegal, the person must be released.

Habeas corpus relief is available in both federal and Connecticut state courts. It is often considered part of the appeals process. The writ has evolved to be a convicted person’s last means to challenge a conviction or sentence. Issues that cannot or were not addressed in direct appeals may be addressed in habeas petitions. Most commonly are the collateral attacks of ineffective assistance of counsel (convictions and sentences are illegal if obtained in violation of a defendant’s rights; in this case, the Sixth Amendment right to counsel would be the right violated). It can also be used for claims of actual innocence (information not available at the trial has come out, such as DNA evidence or a witness retraction), court or corrections department errors, a change in law that can be applied retroactively and for other existing and possibly new reasons.

In Connecticut, habeas relief is possible for someone in prison, on probation or parole. If you or someone you know fits any of those categories and believes Constitutional rights were violated, contact me to discuss the case.