Habeas Corpus is latin for “that you have the body.” In the United States criminal justice system, if an individual believes that they are unlawfully confined, a writ of habeas corpus may be used to challenge the alleged illegal confinement. In short, a habeas corpus petition is a civil suit challenging the judgment of the trial court. Whereas in criminal proceedings, an individual directly challenges their conviction, in habeas corpus proceedings, the individual is directly challenging their confinement.
Different aspects of the individual’s detainment can be attacked, including the fact of, duration of, or conditions of confinement. In habeas corpus cases, the burden is with the petitioner to raise a claim. One example of a habeas corpus claim is ineffective assistance of counsel. Issues related to the mental health of the defendant could be crucial to a habeas corpus petition if, for example, it was discovered that the defendant suffered from serious mental health problems and yet no mental health defense or mitigating information was raised during trial. Thus, a habeas corpus claim of ineffective assistance of counsel might be raised alleging that the defense attorney failed to raise mental health information at trial and that their client was unlawfully imprisoned because of it. It is self-evident that if a habeas petition revolves around the mental state of the individual, then retaining a forensic psychiatrist to be an expert witness is crucial to the success of the habeas petition.
In habeas corpus cases, the role of a forensic psychiatrist may include reviewing the mental health records (or other collateral sources) of the individual in question as well as performing a full psychiatric assessment. At Rocky Mountain Forensic Psychiatry, we are available to provide forensic psychiatry expertise to assess the viability of a habeas corpus petition. For more information, please contact us.