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LEGAL DICTIONARY - LETTER H


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HABEAS CORPUS
Latin for "You have the body." A prisoner files a petition for writ of habeas corpus in order to challenge the authority of the prison or jail warden to continue to hold him. If the judge orders a hearing after reading the writ, the prisoner gets to argue that his confinement is illegal. These writs are frequently filed by convicted prisoners who challenge their conviction on the grounds that the trial attorney failed to prepare the defense and was incompetent. Prisoners sentenced to death also file habeas petitions challenging the constitutionality of the state death penalty law. Habeas writs are different from and do not replace appeals, which are arguments for reversal of a conviction based on claims that the judge conducted the trial improperly. Often, convicted prisoners file both.

HARASSMENT
Unsolicited words or conduct which tends to annoy, alarm or abuse another person. An excellent alternate definition can be found in Canadian human rights legislation as: "a course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome." Name-calling ("stupid", "retard" or "dummy") is a common form of harassment.

HEARSAY
Evidence based on what the witness has heard someone else says, rather than what the witness has personally experienced or observed.

HOMICIDE
The word includes all occasions where one human being, by act or omission, takes away the life of another. Murder and manslaughter are different kinds of homicides. Executing a death-row inmate is another form of homicide, but one which is excusable in the eyes of the law. Another excusable homicide is where a law enforcement officer shoots and kills a suspect who draws a weapon or shoots at that officer.

HOSTILE WITNESS
During an examination-in-chief, a lawyer is not allowed to ask leading questions of their own witness. But, if that witness openly shows hostility against the interests (or the person) that the lawyer represents, the lawyer may ask the court to declare the witness "hostile", after which, as an exception of the examination-in-chief rules, the lawyer may ask their own witness leading questions.

HOT PURSUIT
An exception to the general rule that a police officer needs an arrest warrant before he can enter a home to make an arrest. If a felony has just occurred and an officer has chased a suspect to a private house, the officer can forcefully enter the house in order to prevent the suspect from escaping or hiding or destroying evidence.

HUNG JURY
A jury is required to make a unanimous or near unanimous verdict. When the jurors, after full debate and discussion, are unable to agree on a verdict and are deadlocked with differences of opinion that appear to be irreconcilable, it is said to be a "hung jury". The result is a mistrial.