The History of Bail Bonds

The history of bail bonds can be seen from the very formation of the United States. What is important to understand about the United States legal system is that it is derived from its European roots. It is for this reason that there are a plethora of statutes and legal theories that have traveled across the Atlantic Ocean and made there way into the United States legal culture. The reason for this is that the founding fathers needed to form a government quickly in the wake of the revolution. Thus, one of the principles that was adopted was the practice of bail bonds in the new government that was forming in the United States.

Bail bonds have been in practice in the British legal system for centuries. In fact, in medieval times, there were too many prisoners that were in jail and a decision had to be made as to which criminals to keep in jail. What made the process flawed was that many of the criminals did not want to turn up to trials when their punishments were torture and being burned at the stake. For this reason, there had to be a way to motivate the criminals who were released to return to jail.

What was the problem with the decision making of which criminals to release in society was that too much power was left to the local sheriff about which criminals to release. This led to a great deal of corruption with sheriffs having too much power to choose which criminals to release based on brides. In 1275, the Parliament passed the statute of Westminster to take away some of the authority sheriffs. The statute indicated which crimes were bailable offenses and which ones were not. This statute created a great deal of clarity and did not have any amendments for hundreds of years.

The United States implicated this practice in its new government. However, the practice was not officially codified until almost 200 years later. The United States Congress passed the Bail Reform Act of 1966. The Bail Reform Act of 1966 stated that any defendant that was in the midst of facing trial for a non-capital offense should be released “on his personal recognizance” or on personal bond. That being said, if the court had the instinct that the defendant could possibly leave town, the judge would then have the authority to choose a more restrictive option that would potentially limit the defendant’s travel and/or executing an appearance bond that would be refunded when the defendant successfully appeared in court.

The legal concept of bail bonds has a fascinating history in the United States given its English roots that have been in place for centuries. The logic behind bail bonds has been an incredible contribution to the criminal justice system because it was one of the theories that led away from some of the harsher punishments in England. By eliminating one of the elements of corruption associated with these offenses it allowed the criminal justice system to evolve into the model we see today that promotes a more just trial and incarceration system. By utilizing bail bonds, the criminal justice system has greatly benefited as a whole and will do so for the years to come.

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