A Brief History of the Bail System
The concept of bail is something we take for granted. We’re all introduced to the concept relatively early in life, with most news’ stories about criminals or crime dramas on TV mentioning a set bail amount following someone’s initial arrest and arraignment, but where did the practice start? Intuitively, when you think about incarceration, you wouldn’t necessarily think there would be a need for bail unless it was to address a specific issue government entities were having in regards to imprisoning people who committed criminal offenses. So what necessitated the creation of bail and when?
Bail bondsmen have always been a fixture in American society, largely because the practice had been used in Great Britain for centuries prior to the founding of the United States, and our legal system is strongly rooted in English Common Law.
Early Bail in the 13th Century
There were two main driving forces for the concept of bail being created. First, if a town was small it may not have a magistrate, or what we would call judges here in the United States, meaning a trial couldn’t happen for a month or more until a judge was schedule to be in town again. If an area happened to have a lot of petty crime, which at the time often included things like vandalism, poaching or accusations of disloyalty to the crown, your small local jail could get crowded while you wait for the magistrate.
The second factor was the severity of punishments. Back at this time what we would consider minor offenses today carried a sentence of death back then, so there was a pretty big incentive for a lot of people to do everything in their power to get away from their predicament.
The first formal laws that codified rules regarding bail were written in the Statute of Westminster in 1275. Before then local sheriffs could hold or release criminals however they saw fit, which was a system fraught with significant corruption, depending on the sheriff.
Entrepreneurs who had the liquid capital saw an opportunity to profit by accepting a down payment from a client who needed bail posted as insurance for their showing up to their trial. People who were eligible for bail but didn’t necessarily have the money to cover their entire bail amount could now get out of jail and continue living their life until the magistrate showed up for trial, alleviating overcrowding in jails and providing an incentive for people to show up to trial.
The Statute of Westminster imposed some limits on which crimes could qualify for bail and which could not. People would not be eligible for bail for certain crimes, such as in cases where the suspect may be sentenced to death, as the loss of bail may not be enough to ensure they return for trial to potentially lose their life. There’s also the question of the person’s danger to society to consider for particularly violent or dangerous offenders.
This wasn’t formally updated for hundreds of years. It wasn’t until the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679 that magistrates were given charge of the bail process. Ten years later the English Bill of Rights was adopted, which ensured magistrates couldn’t place an unreasonable burden on the accused by requiring exorbitant bail amounts.
These rules were adopted in the United States, as was much of English Common Law, and remained relatively unchanged until the Bail Reform Act of 1966.
This bill addressed multiple problems with the existing system.
First, the rules of who could be eligible for bail were very rigid. Criminals with a high risk for reoffending would get out on bail and commit more crimes. In the Bail Reform Act, judges were given additional latitude in deciding whether or not the suspect could be eligible for bail, even if it wasn’t a capital offense.
There was also growing awareness in the country that the poor were being unfairly affected by bail. There were a lot of people who got picked up and accused of crimes who ended up sitting in jail for weeks or months only to find out they were acquitted and the charges were dropped and they were released after having wasted weeks in prison. This led to innocent people losing jobs and families being destroyed, even though the affected party was guilty of nothing except being wrongfully accused and not being able to afford bail. The Bill gave judges more latitude in determining bail based on the offense, the person, their history and their ability to pay a bail bondsman a down payment.
Need a Bail Bondsman? Goldberg Bail Bonds Can Help
Goldberg Bail Bonds is committed to helping people from all walks of life stay out of jail until their trial date. If you or a loved one have been put in any jail in Minnesota, call Goldberg Bail Bonds at (612) 333-8111 to secure your freedom.