Martial Law. The exercise of government and control by military authorities over the civilian population of a designated territory.
Martial law is an extreme and rare measure used to control society during war or periods of civil unrest or chaos. According to the Supreme Court, the term martial law carries no precise meaning (Duncan v. Kahanamoku, 327 U.S. 304, 66 S. Ct. 606, 90 L. Ed. 688 ). However, most declarations of martial law have some common features. Generally, the institution of martial law contemplates some use of military force. To a varying extent, depending on the martial law order, government military personnel have the authority to make and enforce civil and criminal laws. Certain civil liberties may be suspended, such as the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, freedom of association, and freedom of movement. And the writ of Habeas Corpus may be suspended (this writ allows persons who are unlawfully imprisoned to gain freedom through a court proceeding).(West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2).