The headline of this morning’s online edition of the Madrid daily El Mundo states: “Puigdemont y sus ex ‘consellers’ huidos, en libertad condicional en Bélgica.” El Público repeats the same mistake indicating that “El juez deja en libertad condicional a Puigdemont y a los cuatro exconsellers.” And, of course, this is not the case: the editors of both newspapers have repeated an error sometimes appearing in the press, confusing libertad condicional with libertad provisional.
In Spain libertad condicional generally denotes the early release of a prison inmate who is classified in what is termed tercer grado de tratamiento (the minimum security level of the offender treatment program), has served at least three-fourths of his sentence (que haya cumplido las tres cuartas partes de la condena) and who has exhibited good behavior (observado buena conducta).* When granted libertad conditional, an inmate is allowed to serve the remainder of his sentence in the community. In that regard, libertad condicional may be rendered as “early release” or as “parole” (the latter defined in Black’s Law Dictionary as “the release of a prisoner from imprisonment before the full sentence has been served”).
Thus Mr. Puigdemont and the former Catalan consellers are obviously not en libertad condicional (on parole), because they have not been formally accused, tried or convicted of an offense, nor have they served a custodial sentence (pena privativa de libertad) for which they could be granted parole. What the journalists meant to say was that they have been granted libertad provisional, having been released until the Belgian judge issues a decision concerning the pending euroorden (orden de detención europea or European arrest warrant) issued against them.
Indeed, in criminal proceedings libertad provisional generally denotes “pretrial release,” or “release pending trial,” referring to the release of a criminal suspect or defendant pending the outcome of a criminal investigation or while awaiting trial. In this case, among other possible orders, a judge may grant “release on bail” (libertad con fianza) or “release without bail” (libertad sin fianza), often with medidas cautelares (in this context, “conditions”) such as the requirement to periodically report to the court (obligación de comparecer en el juzgado).
*Early release can granted exceptionally under other circumstances (supuestos especiales de adelantamiento de la libertad condicional). These include libertad anticipada por enfermedad (often referred to in English as “compassionate release”) for inmates suffering from a serious incurable disease (internos aquejados de enfermedad grave incurable), or inmates over 70 years old (internos mayores de 70 años).