Legal Definition of Prisoner

A prisoner is the one held in confinement against his will.2 min read


One held in confinement against his will.

Prisoners are of two kinds, those lawfully confined, and those unlawfully imprisoned.

Lawful Prisoners

Lawful prisoners are either prisoners charged with crimes, or for a civil liability. Those charged with crimes are either persons accused and not tried, and these are considered innocent, and are therefore entitled to be treated with as little severity as possible, consistently with the certain detention of their persons; they are entitled to their discharge on bail, except in capital cases, when the proof is great; or those who have been convicted of crimes, whose imprisonment, and the mode of treatment they experience, is intended as a punishment, these are to be treated agreeably to the requisitions of the law, and in the United States, always with humanity.

Prisoners in civil cases, are persons arrested on original or mesne process, and these may generally be discharged on bail; and prisoners in execution, who cannot be discharged, except under the insolvent laws.

Unlawfully Confined Prisoners

Persons unlawfully confined, are those who are not detained by virtue of some lawful, judicial, legislative or other proceeding. They are entitled to their immediate discharge on habeas corpus.

Laws Regarding the Receipt and Safety of Prisoners

By the resolution of congress, of September 23, 1789, it was recommended to the legislatures of the several states, to pass laws, making it expressly the duty of the keepers of those jails to receive and safely keep therein, all persons committed under the authority of the United States, until they shall be discharged by due course of the laws thereof, under the like penalties as in the case of prisoners committed under the authority of such states respectively. And by the resolution of March 3, 1791, it is provided, that if any state shall not have complied with the above recommendation the marshal in such state, under the direction of the judge of the district, shall be authorized to hire a convenient place to serve as a temporary jail.

Prisoners of War

One who has been captured while fighting under the banner of some state. He is a prisoner, although never confined in a prison.

In modern times, prisoners are treated with more humanity than formerly; the individual captor has now no personal right to his prisoner. Prisoners are under the superintendence of the government, and they are now frequently exchanged.

It is a general rule, that a prisoner is out of the protection of the laws of the state, so for, that he can have no civil remedy under them, and he can, therefore, maintain no action. But his person is protected against all unlawful acts.

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