Legal terms that one should know

27 Dec

I am an avid reader of all novels linked to law. I have this collection of Perry Mason novels ( I think I have almost all of them) and find it really interesting the way he handles certain cases. These are some terms that everyone should know unless you have a very good lawyer and lot of money . If you have seen “Practice”( not “Boston Legal”) in TV or read any of Perry Mason novels( not “John Grisham’s”), you would have heard the term “habeas corpus” quite often. Infact, almost always Mr. Mason files for a habeas corpus as soon as someone comes to him to defend a case. Well, this is what habeas Corpus means.

Habeas Corpus
habeas corpus n. Law A writ issued to bring a party before a court to prevent unlawful restraint. [Source: AHD

The basic premise behind habeas corpus is that you cannot be held against your will without just cause. To put it another way, you cannot be jailed if there are no charges against you. If you are being held, and you demand it, the courts must issue a writ or habeas corpus, which forces those holding you to answer as to why. If there is no good or compelling reason, the court must set you free. It is important to note that of all the civil liberties we take for granted today as a part of the Bill of Rights, the importance of habeas corpus is illustrated by the fact that it was the sole liberty thought important enough to be included in the original text of the Constitution.

Now that we have the most important part covered and you know that you cannot be held without a reason, there is something called the Fifth Amendment. You would have seen people saying,” I invoke the fifth amendment” in many of these novels.

Amendment 5 – Trial and Punishment, Compensation for Takings

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

This would mean you have the right to go on a trial and get a lawyer before anything happens. Ofcourse, you may never see this happening in Indian movies. I am not sure about the Indian constitution anyway. If you see the underlined words in 5 Amendment ” be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb” ,it is called “double jeopardy”.

Double jeopardy is a term used in law. Double jeopardy is forbidden by the Constitution. Double jeopardy is what would happen is someone were to be charged with a crime and be found innocent, and then be charged with that crime a second time. For example, if you are charged with stealing a car, and a jury finds you innocent, you cannot be charged with stealing the car again.

There is an interesting Perry Mason Novel where he uses this . The brother gets charged with murder of a guy, though he is actually framed . Mason helps him getting acquitted with very good investigation and arguments. Just around the same time, his sister actually kills the guy and the bro takes the rap saying he killed the guy. But, he cannot be tried ‘coz he has already been acquitted for the same crime!!!


Posted by on December 27, 2005 in From AM-KICKING blog


2 responses to “Legal terms that one should know

  1. Mindframes

    December 28, 2005 at 10:06 pm

    Watching movies/serials with a law background always interests me. It is amazing how laws can be twisted and loop holes can be invented. I despise lawyers for the same reason as well…

  2. BrainWaves

    January 2, 2006 at 11:08 pm

    Though I read it in lot of novels never understood what Habeas corpus means. Useful info.

    There is movie based on this double jeopardy. Guess the name 🙂


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