A Writ of Habeas Corpus

A writ of habeas corpus is one of the most important rights that an American citizen is granted by the Constitution. A writ is a court order. Habeas corpus is Latin for "you have the body," but in courts in the United States, it refers to a prisoner or person under arrest. A writ of habeas corpus requires that the person who has been arrested must be presented, in person, to a judge to decide if the court can order the person to be detained or set free. This is important because it prevents people from being arrested illegally. If a person who has been arrested files a writ of habeas corpus, the court must prove that the prisoner has been legally arrested and that there is a legal reason to keep that person in jail or prison. If that cannot be proved, the prisoner must be set free.

In 1863, Congress passed the Habeas Corpus Act of 1863, which said that the president has the authority to decide if habeas corpus can be suspended. This was to allow Abraham Lincoln to arrest political prisoners who had been disloyal to the Union. Lincoln used this authority to prevent key politicians in Maryland from being present for the vote on whether or not Maryland was going to secede from the Union. President George W. Bush also suspended habeas corpus in 2006 when he signed the Military Commissions Act of 2006. The act gives the U.S. government a lot of flexibility in arresting, detaining, and interrogating suspected terrorists. President Bush said that the ability to try and get important information from possible terrorists was vital to the country's safety after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Some people have criticized the suspension of habeas corpus, saying that it allows the government to keep prisoners indefinitely and torture them without concern about legal consequences.


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