Why Do We Use the Bail System?

Bail is an accepted part of the judiciary system that we all know about and maybe have a basic understanding of.  The court says that because you committed x crime, you have to pay y dollars to get out of jail.  But what is it and what is its purpose?  

Bail has been around for a long time.  In medieval England, sheriffs held great power.  They were in control of the jails and it was up to them to decide who stayed in jail or who were allowed to pay for release until trial.  This became a corrupt system and in 1275, The Statute of Westminster was established to limit the power of the sheriffs.  It clearly defined which crimes were bailable and which were non-bailable, although it failed to recommend bail amounts which, unfortunately, were still left to the discretion of the sheriffs.  

In 1677, all control of bail terms and conditions were put in the hands of magistrates, and in 1689, a law was passed that made it illegal them to set excessive bail.  At that time, the bail system was still corrupt and jails were full of poor people who couldn’t afford to pay the exorbitant amounts charged by the courts.

The American colonies mirrored their judicial system after their Mother Country and thus, the bail system was introduced to the U.S.  The Judiciary Act of 1789 ruled that all crimes were bailable except for capital offenses.  Of course, this doesn’t mean anyone committing a crime that isn’t a capital one is going to be allowed bail.  It is at the complete discretion of the judge.

When determining if bail is allowed to be set and if it is, judges look at many factors.

  • Bail Schedules.  Most courts have schedules that give suggested bail amounts for each crime.  These tend to vary greatly between jurisdictions.
  • Nature of the Crime.  The more violent ones typically have higher bail (if offered at all).
  • Criminal History.  A person committing their first crime will most likely have lower bail than a habitual offender.
  • Risk of Flight.  The court looks at several things such as current and past employment history, family in the area, available funds, country of origin, use of alias’, and ties to the community to determine a defendant’s risk of fleeing the jurisdiction.  
  • Risk to Society.  The court is obligated to consider whether or not the defendant will harm others if allowed back into society.

Bail serves many purposes.  Because all people are innocent until proven guilty, bail allows those who are truly innocent to avoid spending excessive time in jail. If someone is innocent or the crime is one for which they will not likely serve jail time, it’s better to have him maintaining a job and being a productive member of society than in jail.  

Prison overcrowding is a major problem today in prisons and jails all over the country.  Because most people will get out of jail on bail if given the opportunity, it helps keep prison populations down.

Housing prisoners is a huge expense for taxpayers.  Providing prisoners food, clothing, housing, and healthcare is a burden that taxpayers shouldn’t have to make in many circumstances.  

The main goal of the bail system is to ensure that defendants will appear for their appointed court dates.  Defendants will typically show up for court when their money or collateral is on the line if they don’t.  

There was, however, an inherent problem with a system that allowed people to pay money for their release from jail.  Only those who could afford bail could get out.  

That’s where bail bonds come in.

In 1898, the first bail bonds business was founded in San Francisco by Peter P. McDonough to provide a way for people who could not afford bail to have the same advantages as those who could.  A bond is a surety agreement that promises the defendant will appear in court.  The bondsman will put up the full amount of the bail and in return, the defendant pays the bondsman a non-refundable fee of usually 10% of the bail amount and offers something of value as collateral.  If he fails to show, the collateral is forfeited to be sold to reimburse the bondsman.

The bail and bond system is a necessary part of today’s judicial system.  Although it got off to a rocky start, it has developed into a fair way to even the playing field for those arrested for a crime.  

If you’ve been arrested, call Mercy Bail Bonds at (727) 856-7775 anytime day or night.  We’re here to help.