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Why doesn't everyone who is arrested go to jail?

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Why doesn't everyone who is arrested go to jail?


With all of the police and crime shows on TV today, people are more curious about our legal system than ever. However, as entertaining as those shows can be, they also give a lot of false information about how the legal process actually works.

Many people assume that every person who is arrested automatically goes to jail to await a trial. However, in reality, a lot of people who are placed under arrest never see the inside of a jail cell at all. To clear up these misconceptions and to allay a lot of people’s fears about the legal system, it can be helpful to understand the common reasons for why many arrested individuals do not go to jail.

Severity of the Crime

If a person commits a serious crime, such as murder or assault, that person has a fair chance of being put in jail after their arrest. However, many people who are arrested on a daily basis commit far less serious crimes that do not warrant imprisonment.

People who are pulled over for DUIs, individuals who have bench warrants, and people who jaywalk or commit minor traffic offenses are often processed and released. If anything, they may have to pay a $50 warrant fee and then be given a court date before they leave the police station. Because their crimes were not considered to be dangerous or overtly serious, these individuals often are not at risk of being put in jail.

Posting Bail

People who are arrested for more serious crimes are often given the opportunity to post bail and secure their freedom to await trial. If they post bail and pay the required amount, they can go home, albeit with certain restrictions in place, to wait for their court appearance. They do not have to sit in a jail cell or fear being transported to prison because they have paid the court the required amount of money to secure their release.

Lack of Evidence

Some people who are arrested are released in short order because of the lack of evidence against them. If they are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, such as being at a protest where rowdy protesters are being arrested en masse, they could be released without any charges because the cops cannot prove that they were involved in any actual crime.

This can be the case if someone happens to capture the event on camera and can prove that the arrested individuals are innocent.

Police Officer Error

Despite many law officers being good stewards of public safety and peace, there are some officers who are prone to making mistakes. They could make an error and arrest the wrong person, or falsely believe that someone must be arrested even though that person did nothing wrong.

This scenario happens most often when police officers administer field sobriety tests. Because they receive no formal training for how to give these tests, the results are often subjective (if not entirely wrong). With that, people can be released without seeing jail time if the arresting officer made a mistake.

While the chance of seeing the inside of a jail may be small, it can still help people to prepare themselves accordingly in case they are jailed. If they are put in a cell, it is imperative that people ask for a lawyer, even if they cannot afford to hire one themselves. Having legal counsel present can be vital, particularly during questioning. Their attorney can make sure that they do not incriminate themselves or face wrongful charges.

Many people who are arrested are not put in jail. The above reasons outline the most common explanations for why some people go free.

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