In addition to being borrowed from a Latin word, Habeas Corpus is a term associated with an important right given to individuals in the United States. Generally, a writ of habeas corpus is a legal mandate that requires a prisoner to be presented before court to ascertain whether the government has the power to continue detaining him/her. In order for the writ to be applicable the detained individual or his/her representative needs to petition the court for such a writ. Based on Article One of the United States Constitution, the individual's right to this writ can only be suspended in some cases like the invasion of public safety or rebellion. Notably, the writ of habeas corpus can also be applied in the protection of civil rights and war on terror. Actually, this judicial mandate has continued to be applied in throughout the history of the United States.
Habeas Corpus throughout U.S. History:
As previously mentioned, habeas corpus is largely a procedure with which a court may assess the legality of the incarceration of an individual. This mandate is usually invoked or applied after conviction and the completion of the normal means of appeal. As an intricate weave of case and statute law, a writ of habeas corpus is at once the final refuge of scoundrels and the last hope of the innocent.
Following its application in the initial stages of early common law, habeas corpus had developed to be known as the writs available to a prisoner detained without trial, bail, or pursuant to a court order without jurisdiction by the colonial period. The colonial American period was very familiar and well acquainted with the writ and its occasional suspension. After enumerating Congress' powers, the drafters of the American constitution inserted the limitation that the privilege of the writ shall not be suspended unless in cases of rebellion or raid of public safety. As a result, the federal court system was created as the Act empowered federal judges to grant writs of habeas corpus. In addition, federal judges could also issue other writs that are not specifically offered for by statute but may be crucial for the exercise of their specific jurisdictions.
However, the right or power to the writ was restricted i.e. It shall not extend to prisoners in gaol unless they are committed to trial in some court or are necessary to be presented in court to testify. In relation to the common law, the writ of habeas corpus was available to individuals confined by federal officials without trial or bail but could not be applied to challenge the validity of incarceration pursuant to conviction by a court of competent jurisdiction. Notably, this restriction also applied in cases where the conviction by the federal court was based on erroneous judgment.
The application of the writ was further clarified by the Supreme Court when in Ex-parte Bollman, 8 U.S. (4 Cranch) 75 (1807). In this case, the Supreme Court affirmed that the power of the federal courts to grant the writ was limited to the powers vested in them by statute. This basically meant that the courts didn't have common law or natural authority to grant writs of habeas corpus. The understanding of the dimensions of the writ could be provided by the common law but the power to grant it depended upon and was restricted by the authority the Congress vested in the courts by statute (Doyle, 2006).
In 1833, the U.S. Congress also expanded the power it had granted the federal courts in reaction to the expected state arrest of federal officers trying to implement unpopular tariff. The authority given to these courts was also expanded in 1842 in response to protests regarding the American trial of one of British nationals. In this case, the writ was made available to state prisoners detained because of acts committed or omitted while pursuing a law of the United States. Moreover, the writ was also made available to foreign nationals who were state prisoners and asserted protection of the Act of State doctrine.
The contemporary writ of habeas corpus was birthed in 1867 when the Congress significantly increased the jurisdiction of federal courts to grant it through sanctioning its issuance in all state or federal cases. These were cases in which an individual was restrained of his/her freedom in breach of the constitution or violation of any law or treaty of the United States. Initially, the writ allowed collateral attack upon the conviction of a prisoner when the sentencing court did not have subject matter jurisdiction. However, the Supreme Court started to recognize the increasing number of situations in which the courts acted beyond their jurisdiction due to some constitutional violation that voided their jurisdiction immediately after 1867. The benefits to many prisoners was limited by this development as most of them were confined under state convictions. Furthermore, the benefits were limited because only a minimal portion of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution could be applicable against the states.
U.S. Constitution, Civil Rights, and Habeas Corpus:
Generally, a writ of habeas corpus provides people with the protection against wrongful imprisonment and arbitrary. Consequently, the writ has continually been regarded as the great writ of individual freedom or liberty. Therefore, it's actually one of the most, if not the only, significant part of the U.S. Constitution that protects individual rights (Chemerinsky, n.d.). Even though it has been applied for more than 200 years in the United States, there are still huge disagreements regarding the circumstances with which it should be available.
In relation to the U.S. Constitution attempts to protect civil rights, a writ of habeas corpus is largely applicable across many jurisdictions in state and federal cases. Actually, a year cannot end without several key Supreme Court cases handling the scope of habeas corpus relief. The use or application of the writ has attracted divergent views by both conservatives and liberals. While conservatives consider it as the platform that guilty individuals use to evade convictions and sentences, liberals view it as a fundamental protection against prisoners detained in violation of the U.S. Constitution and laws.
In the American legal and political culture, the protection of civil liberties and rights has been one of the most fundamental principles. One of the most significant aspects of the United States Constitution is defining and safeguarding individual liberties and rights. However, this fundamental principle has continued to evolve throughout the country's history through additional amendments to the constitution, legislative measures, and court decisions.
Civil liberties and rights are freedoms of individuals that the government may not breach or infringe upon. This means that the government cannot limit these liberties in any way though it must restrict these freedoms in attempts to protect the society. Therefore, the government should balance between what is permitted and what must be restricted to safeguard the society while maintaining order ("Civil Liberties Notes," n.d.). A writ of habeas corpus is one of the civil liberties listed in the American constitution that is geared towards protecting individual rights and civil liberties. The legislative mandate has some limitations regarding cases in which it can be suspended in order to protect the society and maintain order. As a result, this mandate not only protects the rights of a prisoner but it also safeguards civil liberties as enacted in the constitution through its limitations.
Habeas Corpus in the Context of War and Terror:
The writ to habeas corpus has evolved through numerous historic struggles to enforce limits on the power of the ruler to an extent that it's widely protected in both domestic and international law. However, questions and concerns regarding the actual scope of this legislative mandate have emerged in the recent past. Actually, numerous questions have been raised that has brought the scope of habeas corpus into sharp focus in the last decade. Since the 9/11 terror attacks, many people have been detained in several locations like Guantanamo Bay and Bagram Airfield by the American government as part of the nation's war on terror. Most of the prisoners experience indefinite incarceration while they have never been afforded prisoner of war status or charged with an offense. As a result, most of the detainees in these locations have sought to use the writ to challenge the legitimacy of their incarceration.
Initially, the American government stated that the habeas corpus was unavailable to the detainees because of their location outside the American sovereign territory and their status as enemy combatants. The U.S. Supreme Court stated that non-citizens detainees at Guantanamo Bay were permitted to file habeas corpus petitions in federal courts in 2004 in Rasul v. Bush. This was followed by a political determination concerning the suitable scope of the writ and enactment of legislation that partly stripped federal courts of the jurisdiction to hear and determine habeas corpus petitions filed by enemy combatants. However, in 2008, the jurisdiction-stripping provision was found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in Boumediene v. Bush (Farrell, 2010). Regardless of the Supreme Court rulings,…