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What’s the Difference? 3 Commonly Confused Legal Terms

manconfusedbylegaltermsWith the popularity of prison dramas and procedural cop shows, many legal terms have become common usage. However, the nature of fiction means that many of these terms are used in a general or incorrect way that can lead to confusion about their definitions in real life situations.

In this blog, we cover three sets of common legal terms that are often used interchangeably even though they aren’t synonymous.

1. Bail and Bond

Bail and bond both serve the same purpose. Essentially, these loans allow someone who has been arrested to leave law enforcement custody until his or her trial date. Each agreement comes with specific terms that must be met by the defendant or whoever posted bail or bond on the defendant’s behalf.

The primary difference between bail and bond is who pays the amount to get the defendant out of jail. When someone is bailed out, he or she or a family member pays a set cash amount as bail to the jail. If the defendant does not adhere to the terms of his or her bail, this amount of money is forfeit to the court.

When a defendant cannot pay for bail on his or her own, a bond may be used instead. A bond agreement is made through a bail bond company. In addition to the conditions set by the court, the defendant family member or friend must pay the bond company a premium of 10 % post a bail bond.

The bail bond company posts a bail bond and serves as a guarantor that, should the defendant fail to honor his or her agreement, the full amount will be paid to the courts.

2. Jail and Prison

There are plenty of names for places where law enforcement holds people who are awaiting trial or who have been convicted of a crime, from lockup to the clank. But the two most commonly misused terms are “jail” and “prison.”

Jails are intended for short-term and minor sentences. For example, you could be held in a jail overnight before being charged with a crime. In most areas, jails are controlled by local law enforcement. Most inmates incarcerated in jails are serving sentences for misdemeanors rather than felonies.

Prisons, on the other hand, are generally state, federal, or private facilities. Prisons have varying levels of security, but most prisons are used to house inmates with felony convictions or who have been given a multi-year sentence.

Both jails and prisons may have other facilities under them. For example, a jail may have a boot camp run by the same law enforcement agency while a prison may work with halfway houses or community restitution centers. Either of these facilities may offer educational, vocational, and work release programs to help inmates reintegrate into society at the end of their sentences.

3. Probation and Parole

Like bail and bond, probation and parole serve a similar purpose. Both probation and parole offer a person who has been convicted of a crime a set period of time out of custody to prove that he or she is prepared to reenter society. However, these two tools appear at different times in the sentencing process.

Typically, probation is an alternative sentence to jail time. For example, a first-time offender may be sentenced to the time he or she has already served in jail and a year of probation. If the individual reoffends or breaks the terms of his or her probation, a judge may send him or her straight to prison for the remainder of the sentence.

Parole usually occurs at or near the end of a prison sentence. Individuals on parole may have been released early for good behavior or due to facility overcrowding.

Both individuals on probation and parolees must report to an officer who oversees his or her case. The probation or parole officer ensures that these individuals comply with the terms of their suspended sentence or release.

Usually, the terms of probation and parole are fairly similar. The terms may include submitting to random drug tests, living in a halfway house, maintaining a steady job, or completing a rehab program. Individuals under parole or probation must also avoid contact with known criminals, any criminal activity, and any restricted actions such as purchasing or using a firearm for any reason.

Whether you were just pulled over or you recently experienced an arrest, it’s important to be able to differentiate your real rights from film plot points. Work with expert professionals, including a lawyer with experience in cases like yours and a local bail bondsman, to ensure your rights are maintained throughout the legal process.