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What Is "Habeas Corpus" And Can It Help You Fight Criminal Charges?

If you've been accused of a crime and incarcerated, but can't afford bail, you may be wondering whether you have any defenses under the law that would permit your release from jail. Although many criminal statutes include affirmative defenses (like self-defense) you may be able to utilize to avoid conviction, in some cases, the Latin term "habeas corpus" may be all you need to secure release from jail. Read on to learn more about the legal principle of habeas corpus and how it could apply in your criminal case. 

What is habeas corpus? Translated from its original Latin as "show that you have the body," this legal principle is a writ of original action that entitles the criminal defendant to be brought before the court and told the grounds for his or her incarceration.

Most states and the federal government have codified the habeas principle through rules requiring that a criminal defendant be arraigned within a certain period of time after their arrest, often within a matter of hours. If the state or federal government violates this time limit, the defendant may be entitled to immediate release.  

Habeas also requires that the state or federal government show that it has probable cause for your arrest (hence the "show me the body" translation). In many cases, a lack of valid identification, a language barrier between the defendant and the police, or another issue can mean that the wrong person has been arrested and incarcerated. By requiring the government to prove that it's you specifically they've accused of committing a crime and they have good reason to think so, you'll ensure that your case procedes proper. 

How does habeas apply in modern criminal matters? 

Today, most writs for habeas corpus are brought directly to a state's highest appellate court, which may order the trial court to immediately hold an arraignment or otherwise prove the probable cause for the defendant's arrest. However, because so many criminal defendants try to challenge their incarceration on procedural, rather than substantive, grounds, most writs for habeas are ultimately denied.

If you don't believe the police had probable cause for your arrest and you don't have (or can't afford) an attorney, you'll want to request a public defender as soon as possible. These attorneys are available free of charge to anyone who is accused of a criminal offense and deemed "indigent" (or unable to afford an attorney on their own).

If you can afford an attorney, it's a good idea to consult one as soon as you can. The quicker you can challenge your arrest and incarceration, the quicker you'll be able to secure your release and get back to your normal life. 

Talk to defense lawyers at firms like Cooper & Bayless PA for more information.