Habeas corpus, looking forward

October 24, 2012

Habeas corpus is one of those terms most of us learn in high school civics and promptly forget (or relegate to jokes — an old friend of mine and I once started a goofy murder-mystery story with the line, “Hey! Be as corpses!”). But habeas corpus is serious stuff, a central pillar of our American system of justice.

Essentially, habeas corpus orders an individual, often a law enforcement official, to produce a prisoner in court and justify the legality of the prisoner’s custody. Ideally, habeas corpus protects innocent people against being mistakenly held. As Joseph L. Hoffmann, Harry Pratter Professor of Law in the Maurer School of Law at IU Bloomington, points out in his recent article, Innocence and Federal Habeas after AEDPA: Time for the Supreme Court to Act, “[T]he myth of the infallible American criminal justice system is dead. We know that despite the best intentions, victims, eyewitnesses, crime labs, police, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, and jurors all sometimes make mistakes.

“There will always be the perceived need for some kind of ‘safety valve’ by which wrongful convictions can be overturned,” Hoffman continues. “Indeed …, it may well be that such a post hoc ‘safety valve’ is exactly what most in society desire most of all.”

In his article and recent book Habeas for the Twenty-First Century: Uses, Abuses and the Future of the Great Writ (co-authored with Nancy King), Hoffman considers the problem of wrongful convictions and the use and abuse of habeas corpus petitions. Hoffman and King’s work advocates rethinking the scope and limits of habeas corpus to avoid wasteful abuses of the order while protecting its long-term future for us all.

Hoffman is just one of the “faces” of IU Bloomington’s research and creative actvity included in the newly released 2011-12 Year-End Report from the Office of the Vice Provost for Research, which also looks toward the future. In Fiscal Year 2012–13, as it continues to support faculty and their research goals, OVPR will dedicate new space for social science research in Woodburn Hall, support international and globalization efforts through a special Mellon Foundation program, work with the new IU School of Public Health-Bloomington to enhance health-related reserach, and more.

Click this link to view an interactive PDF of the Year-End Report and learn more.

–Lauren J. Bryant

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