Friday, January 20, 2012

Legal Terms and Concepts (B)

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1. bail
bail, in law, is the procurement of release from prison of a person awaiting trial or an appeal, by the deposit of security to insure his submission at the required time to legal authority. The monetary value of the security—known also as the bail, or, more accurately, the bail bond—is set by the court having jurisdiction over the prisoner. The security may be cash, the papers giving title to property, or the bond of private persons of means or of a professional bondsman or bonding company. Failure of the person released on bail to surrender himself at the appointed time results in forfeiture of the security. Bail is usually granted in a civil arrest. Courts have greater discretion to grant or deny bail in the case of persons under criminal arrest, e.g., it is usually refused when the accused is charged with homicide. The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States provides that “excessive bail shall not be required,” but it does not provide any absolute right to bail.

2. bankruptcy
bankruptcy, in law, is the settlement of the liabilities of a person or organization wholly or partially unable to meet financial obligations. The purposes are to distribute, through a court-appointed receiver, the bankrupt's assets equitably among creditors and, in most instances, to discharge the debtor from further liability. In the United States, bankruptcy is controlled by a federal law adopted in 1898 and amended several times, as by the Chandler Act (1938) and the Bankruptcy Reform Act (1978).

Bankruptcy proceedings may be voluntary (instituted by the debtor) or involuntary (instituted by creditors). The debtor may be insolvent—i.e., unable to pay all debts even if the full value of all assets were realized—or may become insolvent when current obligations mature. Bankruptcy is also permitted when the discharge of debts would otherwise be unduly delayed, e.g., if the debtor has fraudulently transferred property to put it out of a creditor's reach. When a person or corporation has declared or been adjudged bankrupt, preferred creditors (e.g., unpaid employees, or the federal government) are paid in full, and the other creditors share the proceeds of remaining assets.

The bankrupt individual receives more lenient treatment in the United States than in perhaps any other country, so that business initiative is not stifled by the threat of criminal or civil penalties following unintentional commercial failure. This ideal is evident in Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy code, which permits courts to reorganize the assets of failing businesses instead of ordering complete liquidation of these assets. The 1978 revision of the code made it easier for corporate management to remain in control of a company during reorganization. These more lenient provisions led to a rapid increase in filings in the 1980s and 1990s. In 2005 Congress passed a significant revision of the bankruptcy code affecting individuals, prompted in part by the increase in filings since 1978. Under the new law, it is harder for an individual to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which extinguishes a person's debts, and it is easier for creditors to secure repayment of a debt over time. The changes were strongly supported by banks and credit card companies, but were also criticized by a number of bankruptcy experts for placing additional burdens on middle income families while not closing loopholes that benefit bankrupt corporations and wealthy individuals. Chapter 9 of the code provides for the reorganization of bankrupt municipalities.

3. benefit of clergy
This term is originally applied to the exemption of Christian clerics from criminal prosecution in the secular courts. The privilege was established by the 12th cent., and it extended only to the commission of felonies. The ecclesiastical courts did not inflict capital punishment except in rare cases, in which event those adjudged guilty were turned over to local secular authorities for enforcement of the sentence (see canon law). In the ecclesiastical courts the severest sentences usually were degradation and the imposition of penances. Many criminals posed as clerics to obtain benefit of clergy. In England the privilege was soon extended to all clerks, i.e., literate persons. The ecclesiastical courts lost all jurisdiction over criminal acts in 1576, and thereafter clerics were tried by the secular courts and, under statute law, were either discharged or sentenced to a year's imprisonment. Early in the 18th cent. the reading test was abolished and all persons were allowed to claim this privilege for the first conviction of felony; later the privilege was extended generally to peers and women. Benefit of clergy thus mitigated the severities of English criminal law, which imposed the death penalty for many offenses now deemed trivial. Criminal law was ameliorated in the early 19th cent., and in 1827 benefit of clergy was abolished as being no longer necessary. In the United States it was abolished in 1790 for all federal crimes, and c.1850 it disappeared from the state courts. The term “benefit of clergy” has come in popular usage to mean sanction of the clergy, particularly in the phrase “marriage without benefit of clergy.”

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