You may have heard about peace bonds, especially if you live in Canada or watch Canadian media. While peace bonds are fairly common in Canada, they can seem strange to a U.S. audience. Mixing both criminal and civil law, peace bonds are a bit unusual in the sense that instead of punishing criminal offenses, they are designed to prevent those offenses from occurring in the first place. Although peace bonds are mainly used in Canada and not in the U.S., they nonetheless are an interesting topic for American legal experts who wonder if such a tool could also be used south of the border.
What is a peace bond?
A peace bond is a protection order issued by a court against a defendant. Essentially, the defendant is issued a peace bond if there are reasonable ground to believe that he or she may commit a criminal offense. Usually a peace bond is issued when there is reason to believe that an individual intends to physically harm a person, child, spouse, or common-law partner, or intends to damage property. When a peace bond is issued, the defendant must agree to the conditions set out in the peace bond, which usually includes refraining from contacting the applicant. A peace bond can be put in place for up to a year.
What are the punishments for breaking a peace bond?
Breaking a peace bond is a criminal offense and can lead to time in prison. Furthermore, when issued a peace bond, the bonded individual makes a promise to pay the court a certain amount of money if he or she breaks the conditions of the peace bond. The amount of money promised varies depending on the circumstances of the case. If the peace bond is broken, the bonded individual may not only face criminal charges, but will also have to pay this surety.
Criminal or civil?
Peace bonds are a bit strange since they mix elements of both criminal and civil law. For example, a peace bond is issued by a criminal court and usually is intended to prevent a person from committing a criminal offense. At the same time, however, a person applying for a peace bond does not need to prove that the defendant intends to commit a crime beyond a reasonable doubt, but only on a balance of probabilities, which is a much lower standard of evidence. Furthermore, being issued with a peace bond does not mean that the bonded person has been found guilty of a crime and, as such, a peace bond alone is usually not sufficient for a person to be denied entry to the U.S. Indeed, some individuals may agree to a peace bond in exchange for criminal charges being dropped against them. However, breaking a peace bond is a criminal offense and can lead to a criminal record.
Peace bonds are almost never used in the U.S. However, these largely Canadian court orders provide important lessons for American legal experts about possible ways to prevent violent criminal acts from occurring. In mixing civil and criminal law, peace bonds provide a tool to help protect the most vulnerable members of society.