The History Of Bail Bonds: From England To The United States
Ideally, nobody wants to deal with the idea of bail, because of course bail is inherently associated with going to jail. The fact is that the history of bail bonds is much more complicated than many people realize. A lot of people struggle with the idea of bail bonds in the first place, as they believe that they’ll never need them. Furthermore, in recent history a number of fictional books, films, and TV shows, as well as some reality TV shows, have distorted the idea of bail and bail bondsman. This has led some to have a rather negative view of bail bonds, which means that when they actually need them they don’t take full advantage of them. In fact, bail bonds have long been an important part of the justice system, ensuring that people don’t spend more time in jail than they have to. Indeed, there are a number of benefits to utilizing bail bonds that many don’t initially recognize.
For one thing, it’s important to realize that bail can often be set at a threshold that is more than you or your loved ones can afford. In cases like these, people may end up spending time in jail as they await their day in court. This opens up several different issues. For one thing, when spending time in jail you’ll find it more difficult to communicate with your attorneys and support system, and prepare for your day in court. Another issue, of course, is that of safety. It can be dangerous to spend time in jail, as well as emotionally traumatic. People can spend weeks or even months in jail when waiting for a court date if they don’t post bail, which means that they may be depressed and less able to withstand legal proceedings when the time comes. In theory, this may not be too much of a problem. However, it can greatly affect your ability to act correctly and defend yourself. As much as your lawyer can help, you still need to do what you can to aid them by providing accurate information. Therefore, it’s all around a good idea to take advantage of bail bonds agencies and what they have to offer. In order to become more familiar with bail bonds and how they work, as well as why you shouldn’t be afraid of them, let’s begin with the history of bail bonds.
The Origins Of Bail Bonds
The history of bail bonds stretches back far further than many recipients realize. In fact, bail bonds can be traced back centuries. Bail itself began back in Anglo-Saxon England, which stretched between 410 and 1066. The money was used as a means of settling different disputes peacefully. Essentially, bail acted then much like it does today. When accused of a crime, the accused individual had to find a third party to essentially act as the financial assurance that there would be no money lost if the accused fled before their day in court. At this time, there wasn’t an actual requirement of money. Rather, the defendant merely needed someone to stand in and pledge that they would pay the fines and settlement money if the defendant could not pay them on their own or was not present to do so. Although there obviously were minor evolutions as time went on, relatively speaking this is largely how the bail system played in western society for centuries to come.
Understandably, the United States bail system would eventually be based on the system used by England. Although this may initially be confusing, it makes sense once you recognize that initially, much of the American governing and legal systems were based largely on English law. Therefore, it makes sense that as the history of bail bonds continued and the legalities remained largely the same, that the United States would eventually adopt a system that was similar to what England had already been dealing with. Some notable events did occur before the transition to the United States, however. In the early 17th century, several men who had been imprisoned for being unable to repay loans to King Charles filed petitions of habeas corpus, arguing that they could not be imprisoned without trial or bail. Indeed, the Petition of Right argued by Parliament in 1628 stated that the king in this case had broken the Magna Carta, which was meant to restrict his power to a certain extent, by imprisoning these men without bail. England would also adopt the Virginia Constitution, which would prohibit excessive bail. This would later be adapted in the Eighth Amendment of the United States constitution.
Transitioning To Bail In The United States
As previously mentioned, the history of bail bonds in the United States mirrored much of the continuing history of bail bonds in the United Kingdom as the nation established its independence. But as the 19th century drew to a close, rapid social and economic changes began to affect the bail bonds system as well. While people had once relied largely upon relatives and friends as sureties, this was no longer so accessible, particularly within a country like the United States, which was quite large compared to England and rapidly growing. No longer could people easily reach out to others to act as sureties, and industrialization made it easier for people to leave town without facing their court dates or paying their settlements. Therefore, changes needed to be made to the system. While England passed its 1898 Bail Act in order to remove the sureties system and find an alternative, the United States went a different route and the commercial bail bondsmen industry began in San Francisco that same year.
At that time, the courts expected bail amounts to be paid in full as a condition of release. Considering the fact that those arrested still had to deal with their everyday expenses, as well as the costs associated with court fees and lawyer services, this was incredibly difficult to handle. As such, bail bondsmen were able to capitalize on this gap in the industry and offer to post the bail money in full, though they expected full repayment along with interest. With that being said, the need for bail bondsmen only increased as the amounts of bail money required increased as well. The fact is that many people cannot afford to pay their bail in full to this day, which is why the bail bonds industry has grown to the extent that it has. While bail bondsmen have been invaluable to those who haven’t been able to pay their bail, a bail bonds agency is a business and the bail that they post must be repaid with interest in order it to stay afloat. Therefore, the use of bounty hunters grew as people began “skipping out” on their bail without paying. As the laws surrounding the bounty hunting profession vary wildly from state to state, the extent to which bounty hunters can act varies in turn. However, in these cases they are not representing the bail bonds agencies for which they’re collecting bounties, as bounty hunters are more independent. Nonetheless, a bail bond agency may have a symbiotic relationship with these bounty hunters because, without them, they can sometimes go without collecting the funds that keep them in business.
Changes To The American Bail System
Of course, the history of bail bonds in America didn’t progress without some major changes as the country entered the 20th century. One of the largest changes was the Bail Reform Act of 1966, which was meant to expand the rights of federal criminal defendants. This act gave non-capital defendants the right to be released pre-trial, unless a judicial officer determined that they did not have sufficient motive to present themselves at trial. Judicial officers were not allowed to be arbitrary when making their decisions. They had to consider the personal and professional ties the person might have, as well as financial obligations, when deciding whether or not the individual had the proper incentive to appear at their trial. The Act also did not permit the judges in such cases to consider the suspects’ potential danger to society when making a decision regarding bail in non-capital cases. As capital cases involved inherently more dangerous or serious crimes, judges remained able to consider the potential dangerousness of the defendants. At the same time, this did not affect people who remained unable to pay for their bail.
A question that often remains regarding the history of bail bonds, of course, is what happens to people who cannot afford bail but also lack the collateral to post in order to work with bail bondsmen. These defendants not only remain in need of bail, but are usually in need of legal help as well. In part as a response to this need, the 1960s also saw specific programs rise for defendants who were in need of bail but unable to easily pay it or put up collateral for bail bond agencies. One of the earliest notable programs was the Manhattan Bail Project, which rose in 1961. Formed by the Vera Institute of Justice, the project argued that those with strong ties to their community did not necessarily need to post bail; and that a simple promise to return for their trials would suffice. Ties to their community might include a strong, longstanding marriage or a steady job. As time went on, the idea of returning based on a promise was known as release on recognizance, or ROR. Although the government of New York City would eventually take over the program, the concept of ROR is still being explored and offered in certain circumstances.
1968 saw an alternate program rise in Baltimore, albeit with similar motivations. This was known as the Volunteers in Service to America program, or VISTA. VISTA actually created a mathematical formula to calculate the likelihood of an individual’s return for their trial without posting bail. Part of the system was essentially based on points. Individuals would receive points based on their good behavior, and have points deducted based on their bad behavior. The idea is based in part on the fact that it is predictive, and ideally based on the history of individuals, would theoretically provide more evidence-based results. Of course, another research program in New York City had less luck, despite the fact that it based its research on pre-trial agency and deposit bail. Questions arose about whether or not the program had been properly handled by judges, with some being accused of allowing preventative detention. Therefore, it’s clear that these programs are somewhat delicate, and their success can vary depending on how the research is conducted. As the bail system in the United States has stretched back centuries with only comparatively small changes, it could be a long time before there is a widespread alternative to the traditional bail and bail bonds that Americans are used to it.
The bail bonds system isn’t perfect. Throughout the history of bail bonds, it has been subject to critique. One of the main concerns continues to surround those who are unable to afford bail, and then become financially indebted to bail bond agencies in turn. Conversely, without bail bond agencies these people still would not be able to afford bail and therefore would need to risk staying in jail until they appeared in court. One alternative that has served people, particularly in recent years, is the community bail fund. Community bail funds are essentially non-profit organizations that collect donations in order to pay for the bail of those in need. That being said, these funds may at times be disorganized, meaning that it could take time for people to receive the bail that they need. Furthermore, some bail fund organizations have been accused of mishandling the donations they receive.
While the current bail bond system is imperfect, it still services a valuable role in our society. Hopefully, the history of bail bonds will continue, allowing growth and making bail money and bail bonds more accessible for Americans throughout the country.