FAST FACTS: Know the difference between commonly confused legal terms

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Certain legal terms that seemingly hold similar provisions are often confusing to understand, and at times, even misused.

However, differences, no matter how small they may be, make one completely distinct from the other.

Misuse of terms can cause confusion and may misinform the public on the accuracy of legal decisions.

Here are some legal terms you should know.

Life imprisonment vs reclusion perpetua

Life imprisonment and reclusion perpetua are often treated as interchangeable or a translation of the other, even by trial judges. In 1992, the confusion prompted former Chief Justice Andres Narvasa to issue Administrative Circular No. 6-92 where he clarified that “both are different and distinct penalties.”

The same clarification was emphasized by then-Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te when reports used the terms interchangeably after Janet Lim-Napoles was sentenced with reclusion perpetua in 2015.

Reclusion perpetua falls under the list of penalties given for crimes prescribed in the Revised Penal Code. It entails imprisonment of at least 20 years and one day to a maximum of 40 years, after which the convicted would be eligible for parole* unless otherwise specified. (READ: Plunder cases in the Philippines: Was anyone punished?)

Life imprisonment, as the name suggests, does not have a definite duration for imprisonment. It is a sentence given under special law, and does not carry accessory penalties (unlike reclusion perpetua), which include:

Life imprisonment also does not have any specific provision on the possibility of parole*.

Amnesty vs pardon

In September this year, the revocation of Senator Antonio Trillanes IV’s amnesty as ordered by President Rodrigo Duterte sparked interest in what distinguishes amnesty from pardon. While both administered under the president’s powers, the two have major differences. (READ: TIMELINE: Trillanes, from mutiny to amnesty)

On the one hand, amnesty is a public act by the president that should have the concurrence of Congress, while pardon is  "pleaded and proved” privately by the person involved.

Amnesty may be "granted to classes of persons or communities who may be guilty of political offenses, generally before or after the institution of the criminal prosecution and sometimes after conviction." Meanwhile, pardon may be granted to a person after conviction. (READ: FAST FACT: Presidential pardons)

Amnesty also "looks backward and abolishes and puts into oblivion the offense itself,” while pardon only absolves the convicted of the consequences of the offense. It does not automatically restore one's political rights (unless restored by the terms of pardon) and does not absolve the person from paying civil indemnity.

Parole vs probation

Parole and probation are more related to one another in that they are often seen as “alternatives” to imprisonment. In both cases, people charged are supervised by correction officers, and are required to follow a set of rules – otherwise, the grant will be nullified.

But one significant difference between the two is entitlement. A convict who has been sentenced to less than 6 years imprisonment without recourse to an appeal may apply for probation. On the other hand, parole may be applied for only after a person has served the minimum of the imposed prison sentence (i.e., the lower range of any sentence). For instance, if sentenced to reclusion perpetua, the convict may start applying for parole only after serving 20 years and one day.

Republic Act 4103 or the Indeterminate Sentence Law defines parole as the “conditional release of a prisoner from correctional institution after serving the minimum period of prison sentence.” It acts as temporary liberty, still holding the person under continuous custody of the state.

Probation, on the other hand, is a privilege of remaining in the community instead of going to prison after conviction. Convicted persons under probation are still subject to regulations they have to strictly follow for a certain period.

Probation can be awarded to first-time offenders, while parole is allowed for individuals who have had previous, but no pending, criminal cases. (READ: Philippine detention centers and the price of criminal justice)

In both cases when conditions are violated, the parolee or probationer may face imprisonment and serve the original sentence imposed. – with a report from Michael Bueza and Vernise Tantuco/Rappler.com

Editor's Note: In a previous version of this article, we mistakenly used "pardon" instead of "parole." The correction has been made.