The History of Bail Bonds

It’s important that people understand where bail bonds come from in Huntsville or anywhere really. Here is the history behind bail bonds.

English Origins

Even in medieval England, criminals would avoid trial by any means necessary. Before the 13th century, the circumstances of defendant retrieval were dictated by the local Sheriffs. Possessing regional authority from the crown, the sheriff could release or hold suspects indefinitely. Therefore, they set bail standards and this set up often resulted in corruption.

This corruption became so atrocious as to necessitate the Statute of Westminster of 1275. It eliminated this discretion of sheriffs and listed the bailable and non-bailable offenses. However, the sheriffs retained the authority to decide bail amount. This was far from a universal right to bail.  It really only addressed the abuses of sheriffs and left the same amount of power in the hands of justices.

In the early seventeenth century, King Charles I had some financial needs and five knights refused to loan him money.  He incarcerated them without trial or bail.  The case went to court, counsel for the knights argued that the five were being detained solely on the King’s whims. The Attorney General contended that the King had the right to seek the security of the kingdom. Unfortunately, the court upheld this sovereign prerogative argument.

Parliament responded by issuing Petition of Right of 1628, which stated that contrary to the Magna Carta and other laws of due process, the King had recently imprisoned people before trial “without any cause showed.”  The act stated that man cannot be detained before trial without accusation.  England would continue to revise and debate this issue for decades afterward.

American Amendments

Bail in the United States adopted British statutes and policies, with the new colonies creating policies similar to British tradition.  For example, Virginia’s constitution– a major inspiration for the U.S. Bill of Rights – read that “excessive bail ought not to be required.”

The 8th Amendment to the Constitution came almost verbatim as it read, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

The 6th Amendment, like the English Habeas Corpus Act of 1678, also plays a role in U.S. bail structure by guaranteeing that those arrested know the “nature and cause of the accusation” against them.  This lets the accused determine if they deserve bail according to their alleged offense.

In 1789, Congress passed the Judiciary Act, specifying which types of crimes were eligible for bail and set bond pricing on judicial discretion. The Act stated that suspects in non-capital offenses were allowed bail, while giving judge’s discretion on detaining capital offense suspects before trial (murder, espionage, treason and other crimes punishable by death or life in prison).

Congress issued the Bail Reform Act in 1966. A non-capital offense defendant “shall…be ordered released pending trial on his personal recognizance” or on personal bond unless a judicial officer felt this would not guarantee the defendant’s appearance at trial.  It basically ordered courts to release suspects with as little burden as necessary to ensure their following appearance. However, this was allowing dangerous individuals to still re-enter society.

1984 marked the appearance of the Bail Reform Act. A defendant could now be detained without bail if he poses a risk to the community; may intimidate jurors or witnesses (or otherwise obstruct justice while out on bail); or committed a violent or drug offense, an offense with a penalty of death or life in prison, or a felony while already having a serious criminal record.

Bail bonding has a long and rich history.  Incarceration is a serious matter and so varied that rest assured, this won’t be the last change made to our laws.

Huntsville Bail Bonds will help you get the freedom you need.


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