When you’re arrested, you may not have to await trial in jail. That’s thanks to bail bonds—a custom that dates back at least to medieval England, and maybe even farther back. Bail bonds are designed to be a type of collateral to guarantee the defendant will come back for their trial. In exchange for money or another type of promise, the defendant is allowed to stay out of jail. Certain terms and conditions apply, which vary by state, county and offense. Regardless, it’s a much more appealing option than sitting in jail for weeks, months or even years.
The history of bail bonds is an interesting one. Read on to find out how this system has served the public over the centuries.
Before the Magna Carta
Some researchers have found indications that bail bonds existed as early as 2700 BCE, in what is now Iraq. However, most of the information we have comes from Europe in the Dark Ages and medieval period.
In the Dark Ages, the court system was not as formal as it is now. Courts would vary widely between towns, counties and countries. The courts had a lot of leeway in how they punished defendants, including execution—the principle of “an eye for an eye” factored heavily into their proceedings. There were no standard laws, procedural codes or trial rules.
In the seventh century, the surety system was introduced. To discourage defendants from skipping town, they could name someone who would be responsible for their fines and penalties if they fled. The problem here was that wealthy people were far more likely to have access to this kind of money and support (a situation that hasn’t really changed today).
The Magna Carta and beyond
The Magna Carta, which was created in 1215, codified and standardized medieval law. This is where we get the idea of due process: the right to notice and a hearing. The idea was to make justice available to anyone, regardless of wealth and class. Out of this came the bail bondsman—someone who would post surety on a defendant’s behalf, so the accused didn’t have to await trial in jail.
Over the following centuries, courts in England continued to refine their bail practices, including setting limits on bail amounts. This carried over to America, where we continue to use bail before trial.
Today, bail for non-capital crimes is guaranteed by both federal and state law. The Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects against excessive bail, and numerous federal acts have refined the bail system over the years. Each state has their own bail system as well, for state crimes, and the bail fee schedules may vary from state to state and county to county.
Bail has been criticized over the years—reformers still believe that it primarily benefits the wealthy. In the future, we may see more legislation defining defendants’ rights when it comes to bail.
In the meantime, if you’re needing assistance with posting bail in TX, the bail bonds agents at Brazoria County Bail Bonds can help. Call us today.