Bail Bonding’s Origins and Global History
Bail enables an individual accused of a crime to secure their release while they await their day in court. It is an integral part of the concept of a person being innocent until proven guilty. Bail has a long and interesting history that can be traced back at least in part to ancient times, but which really came of age in medieval Europe, and in particular, England. In this post the team at Urban Bail Bonds takes a look at the origins of bail bonding and how the role of bail agents has changed over the centuries.
The Ancient Origins of Bail
Although justice for common people in places like ancient Greece and Rome was often meted out quickly and harshly there was a type of bail in place for those in the upper classes who were accused of committing various crimes. There are, in fact, records of bail being taken in Rome as far back as 461 BC and nearly as far back as that in ancient Greece.
At that time there were no bail bondsmen. Bail, when assigned, tended to be set by political figures rather than officers of the court, and the amount required to secure a person’s release while awaiting trial was more than a little arbitrary. Still, the practice managed to set a precedent that endures to this day in Broomfield County and throughout Colorado.
The Influence of English Common Law
The ancient system of bail as introduced by the Romans survived the collapse of the Roman Empire although the decentralized power structure of medieval Europe meant that one fiefdom might practice some form of bail while an adjacent one may not. There are records of bail being used during what was called the Holy Roman Empire which controlled much of present-day France and Germany during the Middle Ages, and it is likely from there that the practice crossed the Channel into England.
For 100 or more years bail was left to the discretion of local sheriffs in England, who represented the crown in their region of the kingdom. Sheriffs had broad discretion when it came to assigning bail but were often accused of exploiting the system to enrich themselves and deny bail to people who were considered enemies of the crown. The original Statute of Westminster sought to put an end to the politicizing of bail by codifying the practice and introducing safeguards against abuse.
Under the Statute of Westminster bailable and non-bailable offenses were clearly delineated for the first time, although for bailable offenses sheriffs still wielded considerable discretion. But the English bail system did more than establish what was and wasn’t a bailable offense. It also introduced the concept of the bail bond agent. The bondsman was typically a man of means who would pledge his assets in order to guarantee another person’s appearance in court at a later date. If the person failed to appear the bondsman would lose their assets.
Bail Comes to America
While people from all over Western Europe made their way to the newly discovered North America during the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries the preponderance of immigrants during that period hailed from England. The English crown was quick to claim territory and set up colonial administrations that used English law as their legal basis, and that included the concept of the bail bondsman.
Unfortunately, diverging opinions about how best to establish order and justice in the colonies often led to bail being sidelined in favor of outright imprisonment of anyone accused of a crime. The fear driving the reluctance to assign bail had a lot to do with the fact that North America was vast and largely unsettled at that time (by Europeans anyway). Authorities feared people released on bail would simply flee into the wilderness and never be seen again.
After the American Revolution it fell to the founders to establish a legal framework for the new nation. This led to the development of the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights comprises the first ten amendments to the US Constitution (seventeen more have been added over the years) and is largely based on the Virginia Constitution of 1776. In an effort to re-establish the pre-eminence of bail nationwide and quell fears that it could lead to the kind of political abuses that were often seen in the English system the 8th Amendment stated that “Excessive bail shall not be required…”. In other words, the amount of bail should fit the crime.
Bail in Modern America
While the 8th amendment to the US Constitution was intended to end the practice of holding people indefinitely by requiring astronomical bail amounts for relatively mundane crimes, the bail system in the US was still largely a hodgepodge of local laws and practices that more closely resembled the medieval English model than the more equitable model espoused by the authors of the Bill of Rights.
During the course of the 19th and 20th centuries numerous reforms were adopted to make the system more democratic and to put more power into the hands of the accused. For one thing cash bail, which has seen sporadic use during the Colonial period, became more common. And in the late 19th century the first bail bond company appeared. Bonding companies were businesses that offered to secure a person’s release by putting up a secured money bond to cover the bail amount in return for a modest fee from the accused.
Legend has it the very first bail bond company was started by Peter and Thomas McDonough in San Francisco. The McDonoughs were bartenders in their father’s saloon who began to put up their own money to secure the release of their patrons who were being arrested for things like public drunkenness and fighting. Needless to say, the bail bonds industry has come a long way since then.
Into the Future
Bail continues to play a central role in the American system of jurisprudence. Without this important check helping to ensure the accused appears in court and that victims are afforded an opportunity to obtain justice, the country would be teetering on the edge of chaos. People in several states have recently seen what happens when bail is eliminated, and the results are not pretty.
Is the current bail system perfect? Of course not. Nothing is. There is a good case for making some common-sense reforms that will reduce the odds that anyone will languish in jail simply because they cannot afford to post bail. With the key phrase, in this case, being “common sense”.
That said, bail bondsmen play an important role in securing public safety and the effectiveness of the justice system. While companies like Urban Bail Bonds provide affordable bail bonds 24 hours a day that helps ensure no one languishes in jail any longer than they have to.
Call Urban For 24 Hour Bail Bonds in Broomfield
If you or a loved one is in need of fast, affordable bail in Broomfield County get in touch with the team at Urban Bail Bonds by calling (303) 736-2275. We’re here for you 24 hours a day with fast and affordable bail services that will have you back home in no time.