Legal Glossary

Habeas Corpus:  Latin for "that you have the body." In the US system, federal courts can use the writ of habeas corpus to determine if a state's detention of a prisoner is valid.  A writ of habeas corpus is used to bring a prisoner or other detainee (e.g. institutionalized mental patient) before the court to determine if the person's imprisonment or detention is lawful.  A habeas petition proceeds as a civil action against the State agent (usually a warden) who holds the defendant in custody. It can also be used to examine any extradition processes used, amount of bail, and the jurisdiction of the court.  See, e.g. Knowles v. Mirzayance 556 U.S.___(2009),  Felker v. Turpin 518 US 1051 (1996) and McCleskey v. Zant 499 US 467 (1991).


Mandamus:  A (writ of) mandamus is an order from a court to an inferior government official ordering the government official to properly fulfill their official duties or correct an abuse of discretion. (See, e.g. Cheney v. United States Dist. Court For D.C. (03-475) 542 U.S. 367 (2004) 334 F.3d 1096.)  Rules on mandamus and similar orders vary by jurisdiction. In the federal courts, these orders most frequently appear when a party to a suit wants to appeal a judge's decision but is blocked by rules against interlocutory appeals. Instead of appealing directly, the party simply sues the judge, seeking a mandamus compelling the judge to correct his earlier mistake. Generally, this type of indirect appeal is only available if the party has no alternative means of seeking review.


RICO: The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, commonly referred to as the RICO Act or simply RICO, is a United States federal law that provides for extended criminal penalties and a civil cause of action for acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization.It was created to deal with organized crime syndicates.

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