Legal Dictionary H

Habeas corpus

Latin: a court petition ordering that a person being detained must be produced before a judge for a hearing to decide whether the detention is lawful. Habeas corpus was one of the concessions the British monarchy made in the Magna Carta and it still stands as a basic individual right against arbitrary arrest and imprisonment.

Habitual offender

A person who is repeatedly convicted and sentenced for crimes over a period of time, even after serving sentences of incarceration, thereby demonstrating a propensity towards criminal conduct. Reformation techniques fail to alter the behavior of the habitual offender. Many countries now have special laws that requiring long-term incarceration, without parole, of habitual offenders as a means of protecting society against an individual who appears unable to comply with the law.


Unsolicited words or conduct tending to annoy, alarm or abuse another person. Any conduct or comment that is known or ought to be known to be unwelcome.” Name-calling (“stupid”, “retard” or “dummy”) is a common form of harassment. (See also sexual harassment.)


Any evidence offered by a witness of which they do not have direct knowledge. Hearsay testimony is a repetition of what others have said to the witness, not a recitation of personal knowledge, and is not allowed. When testifying in court one can only provide information of which one has direct knowledge. Hearsay evidence is also referred to as “second-hand evidence” or as “rumor.” The rumor or hearsay can be repeated in court, but it is not evidence of what occurred, only evidence of what you heard.

Holograph will

A will written entirely in the testator’s handwriting and not witnessed. Some states recognize holograph wills, other do not. Still other states will recognize a will as “holograph” if only part of it is in the testator’s handwriting (the other part being type-written).


All occasions and acts whereby one human being, by act or omission, takes away the life of another. Murder and manslaughter are different kinds of homicides and have varying degrees depending on circumstances and motives. Executing a death-row inmate is another form of homicide, but one which is excusable or justifiable in the eyes of the law. Another excusable homicide is the killing of an armed suspect by a law officer, when 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 his own witness. However, 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 his own witness leading questions.

Hung jury

A jury which, after full debate and discussion, is unable to agree on a verdict and is deadlocked with differences of opinion that appear to be irreconcilable is said to be a “hung jury”. Since a jury is required to make a unanimous or near unanimous verdict, the result is a mistrial.

Husband-wife privilege

A special right that married persons have to keep communications between themselves secret and even inaccessible to a court of law. This privilege may vary from state to state, but it has always been held to be lifted when one spouse commits a crime against the other. See also client-attorney privilege.