History of Bail and Bail Bonds


Have you ever wondered how bail and bail bonds came into existence? In 1641, Massachusetts passed the Body of Liberties which created an unequivocal right to bail for non-capital cases, and re-wrote the list of capital cases. Bail became official in 1677 when the Habeas Corpus Act was passed, which allowed the court magistrates to set the amount of bail in order to encourage the accused to show up for trial. Then, in 1682, Pennsylvania came up with a more liberal law in its new constitution. This law allowed for prisoners to be bailed out with the help of a surety, except for those in prison for a capital offense where there is proof. Pennsylvania introduced the idea of showing evidence for capital cases and also limited the hassle of the death penalty to willful murder. The result was to prolong the right to bail way beyond the Body of Liberties and English law. Pennsylvania’s law was quickly copied by just about every state and became the ideal standard for almost every state constitution implemented after 1776. In 1689, the English Bill of Rights contained a restriction against excessive bail, which helped create the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution. The Eighth Amendment stops excessive bail along with cruel and unusual punishment.

In 1789, the Judiciary Act stated that crimes that did not include the death penalty were valid for bail. After this, laws regarding bail remained unchanged for the next two hundred years until 1966. In 1966, the US Congress passed the Bail Reform Act which allows defendants to be released with as small a financial burden as possible. In 1984, the new Bail Reform Act was created due to the first one allowing dangerous suspects to be released if they did not appear to be flight risks. The new act gave judges the right to decide if defendants would be a danger to society. It also included categories of defendants who could be held without bail, such as repeat offenders, those charged with serious crimes, and those who are a flight risk.

Money for bail was originally created during the Anglo-Saxon period in England (410-1066) as a way of settling disagreements peacefully. The accused individual had to find someone to act as their guarantee and who would agree to pay the settled amount to the victim if the accused ran away. Money was not actually required in order to be let go; the defendant just needed to show they would be responsible and pay the settlement if it came to that.

For hundreds of years, friends and families became guarantees for individuals who were accused of a crime. Then things started to change around 1900. Due to industrialization in England and the United States, people began to move more. It became harder for accused individuals to find relatives to help them out. There were also more opportunities for people to leave town instead of staying for a verdict. The Bail Act was passed in England in 1898 which got rid of guarantees and allowed for finding new, effective ways of making sure the accused showed up for court appearances and new crimes were prevented.

However, the United States decided to do things differently. In America, life and circumstances were not the same as they were in England. For instance, America had different crimes rates than England; therefore, America had to create their own customs and the way they viewed criminal justice. In 1898, San Francisco became the first place in the United States where two commercial bondsmen began a profitable business that quickly became popular across the country. Brothers Peter and Thomas McDonough began the bail bondsmen industry while working at their father’s bar. Lawyers would visit the bar frequently and the McDonough’s would put up the money for bail as a favor to the lawyers. They then realized that it would be much more profitable if they dealt with the accused directly and charge them a fee for their service. At this time, most courts made it mandatory for bail money to be paid in full in order to be released. As it became more and more common for individuals to not be able to pay the full amount all at once, commercial bondsmen were being sought upon to put up their bail money. In return, bondsmen expected to be paid back the full amount plus interest. The accused began relying greatly on commercial bondsmen due to the fact that courts were increasing the use of bail money to be released and increasing the amount required.

Many people who find themselves locked up do not have the money to bail themselves out. Therefore, they need to hire a bail bondsman to help them. The staff at Mercy Bail Bonds are experts in the process of bail and are here to help you or a loved one. Give us a call today at (727) 856-7775 so we can get the process started.