Get out of jail free card: Things you didn't know about the law

Written by nick redfern | 13/05/2017
Get out of jail free card: Things you didn't know about the law
Bars vs. freedom (Андрей Бортников/iStock/Getty Images)

British law can be as curious as it can be baffling. Sometimes it can be downright unbelievable. Not only that: there are notable examples of how, and sometimes under very curious circumstances, the law can be circumvented, or at least lessened, to ensure that what might have ordinarily ended up as jail-time became a case of probation, a fine, or even outright dismissal of the charges. Welcome to the controversial world of the "Get out of jail free card."

Sentenced for speed

Get out of jail free card: Things you didn't know about the law
Behind the wheel and in trouble (fujji/iStock/Getty Images)

In the summer of 2008, Tex O'Reilly was nabbed by the police after being caught speeding on a Peak District road with a 50-mph limit. Astonishingly, however, O'Reilly was clocked at a phenomenal 173 mph! Jail was a real possibility. But there was a problem. After the incident, the car was sold overseas, and the manufacturer said there was no way their vehicle could exceed 127 mph. And with the car gone, and an inability to determine if its engine had been modified, the prosecution had a problem. O'Reilly, as a result, was given a ban and a fine.

Staying out of the joint

Get out of jail free card: Things you didn't know about the law
Relaxing the drug laws (David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Changing attitudes in society have, in recent years, led to the relaxing of the UK's drug laws. Even within the courts there's an admittance that smoking a joint in one's own home is hardly something for Scotland Yard. But, no-one wants gangs of big-time dealers peddling Class A drugs to kids on the street. And, if they're caught doing that, jail follows. Or does it? From January 2012, new changes in the law meant gang-members could now avoid prison-time by demonstrating they only played minor roles in drug-based operations. Unless you're the Mr. Big, jail no longer necessarily beckons.

Boozing behind the wheel

Get out of jail free card: Things you didn't know about the law
Stiff drinks and not-so-stiff sentences (Fudio/iStock/Getty Images)

Some think it's cool to drink-and-drive. It isn't. It's stupid and sometimes deadly. Depending on the severity of the drink-driving-related offence, a jail-term in the UK can extend from 3-months to 14-years - the latter for causing death. And while getting out of that sentence is unlikely, there are examples where jail has been avoided for lesser drink-driving crimes: when the person's drink was spiked; in an emergency situation, such as rushing someone to hospital; or when a vehicle was moved for causing a hazard. You'll need proof, however, for these loopholes to stand a chance of working.

Once bitten

Get out of jail free card: Things you didn't know about the law
Hounding the victim (Molly_Wolff_Photography/iStock/Getty Images)

Dog-attacks result in some of the worst injuries encountered by the UK's emergency-services. But what about punishment for the owners? A longstanding loophole in the law is being filled right now, but still causes confusion when it comes to determining if the accused loses money or their freedom. Until recently, it was only a crime for a dog to be out of control in public. That now applies to the home, too, however. And, since many attacks occur in the home, the loophole of avoiding jail because the incident occurred in the living-room, rather than the local park, is shrinking.

The letter of the law

Get out of jail free card: Things you didn't know about the law
Arresting words (Matt Cardy/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

One thing that puzzles many is the arrest process. Police have strict guidelines to follow. If you're stopped and questioned, the officer is legally bound to present an ID card. If he or she wishes to search you, their name and that of their police-station has to be provided. As for arrest: the officer must identify who they are, explain that you are being arrested, and inform you of the nature of the specific offence. If it can be proved these steps were not taken, a sharp-eyed solicitor may ensure that prison is not on the cards, after all.

Insane but outside

Get out of jail free card: Things you didn't know about the law
On the couch, out the cell (Elisabetta Stoinich/iStock/Getty Images)

Many consider it valid. Others suggest it's just another loophole to avoiding doing porridge. It's the plea of insanity or severe mental-health problems on the part of the accused. While such scenarios do not surface in UK courts anywhere near the figure they do in, for example, the United States, they're far from unknown. Mental-health care in UK prisons has been criticised by many civil-rights supporters. As a result, more than a few people have been placed under the care of the community - whether at home or in a psychiatric-unit - instead of in the hands of Her Majesty.

Sick of the cell

Get out of jail free card: Things you didn't know about the law
Bar-none (C_FOR/iStock/Getty Images)

In the same way that mental-health issues may ensure that a person is not imprisoned, so health problems of a physical nature can have a bearing upon sentences. A case in point is with respect to diabetes. In 2005, the BBC revealed that some patients in UK prisons had been denied permission to keep in their cells vital insulin and blood-sugar-monitoring equipment. If you're in chronic ill-health, or have a condition that has the potential to become life-threatening, a solicitor may make use of this fact. Justified or loophole? It depends on how you view those that break the law.

When doing time isn't really doing time

Get out of jail free card: Things you didn't know about the law
On remand (BrAt_PiKaChU/iStock/Getty Images)

When a crime is committed, and someone is charged, they may be remanded into custody. Because the person has not yet been found guilty of the crime for which they were arrested, they have rights far beyond those of convicted criminals. They can wear their own clothes, be treated by their own doctor, and don't have to work. On remand is often nothing like normal prison. And even if you're found guilty of the crime in question, ironically, you may find yourself serving not a minute of "real" prison time because of the days or weeks already spent on remand.

First time = freedom

Get out of jail free card: Things you didn't know about the law
"Hard work" can keep you out of jail (Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)

Although loopholes in the law are often used by the defence to try and save their clients from prison, sometimes it's the judge himself who will throw a spanner into the works. Cruelty to a child in the UK carries a maximum sentence of 10-years. So, when Emma Cartwright and Neil Gleaves of Wolstanton, Staffordshire were arrested after causing terrible injuries to a child, it didn't look good for the pair. Until the judge intervened. Citing the fact that this was their first offence, and that they were hard-workers, jail was replaced by suspended sentences. Loophole? More like a loopy-hole.

A life on parole

Get out of jail free card: Things you didn't know about the law
Trimming a sentence (Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

If someone is serving a life-sentence, they have clearly committed a very serious offence. Murder, sexual-crimes and armed-robbery are all candidates. But, there is a bizarre clause in the law that allows "lifers" to seek parole before those who have been given sentences of a specific length, such as 15 or 20 years. Providing the conviction was sound, we should not have sympathy for the average murderer or person who swindles their employer out of half a million. But when the former can apply for parole before the latter, it's a given that this a loophole we can do without.

Related: Art imitating life: Films based on real-life crimes

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