In many countries, authorities may take citizens and incarcerate them for months or years without charging them. Those imprisoned have no legal means by which they can protest or challenge the imprisonment. The framers of the U. S. Constitution wanted to prohibit this kind of occurrence in the new United States. Therefore, they included a clause in the Constitution that allows courts to issue writs of habeas corpus.
Defendants who are considering challenging the legal basis of their imprisonment—or the conditions in which they are being imprisoned—may seek relief from a court by filing an application for a “writ of habeas corpus.” A writ of habeas corpus (which literally means to “produce the body”) is a court order to a person or agency holding someone in custody to deliver the imprisoned individual to the court issuing the order. Many states recognize writs of habeas corpus, as does the U. S. Constitution. The U. S. Constitution specifically prohibits the government from suspending proceedings for writs of habeas corpus except under extraordinary circumstances—such as during times of war.
Convicted defendants have a number of options for challenging guilty verdicts and/or for seeking remedy for violations of constitutional rights, including motions, appeals, and writs. Note that convicted defendants must first have sought relief through the available state courts before they are permitted to seek relief in federal courts. Thus, defendants should consult lawyers to determine which remedies are available to them.