Historical police station in San Diego, CA.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s mugshot.
Osceola County Historical Courthouse.
The History of Bail Bonds
During the Middle ages (5th to 15th Century), the bail system was developed in England. Since then, the United States adopted the bail system and has evolved ever since. The laws concerning bail in the United States of America have their root in this 1,000-year-old English Law. In the early days, English Law required that the individual charged with a crime post a sum equal to the fine that the court imposed if the person was found guilty of the crime. Due to excessive abuse of this style of bail, the English Parliament at the time established specific criteria that determined what the amount of bail should be and was the first statute of Westminster in 1275.
These criteria included the nature of the criminal offense committed, the likelihood of the accused would be convicted of the crime, and the criminal history of the accused.
The British people who colonized the Americas brought these laws with them when they came over in the 1600’s. In 1677, the English Parliament passed Act of Habeas Corpus, which establish that magistrate judges would set the terms of bail. Being that “excessive bail” was a problem and concern, the Parliament passed the English Bill of Rights of 1689 and declared restrictions against this excessive bail system. This later inspired the Virginia State Constitution and the 8th Amendment of the United States Constitution was born.
The 6th Amendment to the United States Constitution states: all people that get placed under arrest must “be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation” that they face and allow a person to demand bail if he/she is accused of an offense that warrants bail. Still, the American Bail Laws are rooted in legislation. The Judiciary Act of 1789 established that non capital offenses (crimes that do not carry the death penalty) were deemed bailable. In the case where a person was charged with a capital crime, it was up to the judge.
Bail remained relatively unchanged from the 1700s to 1966. During the 20th Century the bail industry moved towards reform.
In 1966, the United States Congress passed the Bail Reform Act. The act was designed to allow for the release of defendants with as small a financial burden as possible. Before signing the act, President Lyndon B. Johnson gave a speech that contained stunning examples of how the bail system had hurt people in the past. One particular disturbing example was: “A man spent two months in jail before being acquitted, in that period, he lost his kob, he lost his car, he lost his family due to them being split up. He did not find another job, following that, for 4 months.”
The next major revision to the U.S. bail law came with the Bail Reform Act of 1984, which replaced its 1966 predecessor. While the previous Reform Act had helped to overturn discrimination against the poor, it had left open a serious loophole that allowed many dangerous suspects to receive bail as long as they didn’t appear to be flight risks. This new law stated that defendants should be held until trial if they’re judged dangerous to the community.
The law also established new categories of who could be held without bail – mostly those charged with very serious crimes, repeat offenders, the potentially dangerous and anyone who might be a flight risk. And finally, the act stated that those who were eligible for bail had to have a bail hearing.
Currently, bail reform is a hot topic for state governments. As of 2017, in the State of California the bail industry is still in the private sector, saving tax payers millions of dollars by not making it a public entity. If bail becomes a part of the public sector then the tax payer would be responsible for the cost of a new bail system. This includes but is not limited to the cost of thousands of employees salaries and pension plans, recovery, and when a criminal skips on their bail.