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How can habeas corpus get me out of jail?

On Behalf of | Oct 18, 2023 | CRIMINAL LAW - Criminal Defense

You may have heard of the term “habeas corpus” and how it can be used to get you out of jail. While the Latin phrase directly means “show the body,” the term refers to a legal challenge to your incarceration based on a violation of your constitutional rights.

What is it?

Simply, habeas corpus refers to your constitutional right to not be unlawfully imprisoned. Your lawyer can file for a writ of habeas corpus, which will then force the court to compel whoever is detaining you to show cause for that detainment or release you.

Is this an appeal?

No. A writ of habeas corpus is usually done at the initial incarceration stage, generally, before charges are even filed when a government agency has failed to release someone. Though, there are cases where you would file after this initial stage because a habeas corpus petition challenges the validity of the detention itself, not the merits of a conviction or a sentence.

Conversely, in a criminal context, an appeal is made to a higher court to review a lower court’s adjudication and finding of guilt. The goal is to have that conviction vacated or modify your sentence based on new evidence or legal arguments.

Who can file a habeas corpus petition in Maryland?

A state habeas corpus petition is an available option for anyone that is confined by a state or local agency prior to any judicial proceeding. This includes a trial, appeal or even a post-conviction motion. The motion can be based on any ground that challenges the legality of the detention. Examples include ineffective assistance of counsel, violation of some constitutional right or rights, lack of jurisdiction, newly discovered evidence, etc.

Similarly, a federal habeas corpus petition is an available option for anyone that is confined by a federal agency prior to any judicial proceeding. Though, it is also an available option for those in state custody that have exhausted their state remedies, but for these petitioners it is limited to federal constitutional claims.


Unfortunately, habeas corpus is not often talked about much outside of law schools or courtrooms, but it is one of our most important rights. But, filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus is complicated.