For most of us, our knowledge of the bail system begins and ends with daytime television. You know, the crime drama series playing during the afternoon, while everyone is at work or school. The whole system is a bit more historic and sophisticated than that, though.
The Bail System’s History
The United States’ bail system evolved from a similar policy used in England during the Middle Ages. Back in 1677, the English Parliament passed what is known as the Habeas Corpus Act, which established that local magistrates were in charge of setting bail terms for criminals.
Then, the English Bill of Rights of 1689 further declared that “excessive bail” would be restricted. Later on, the Virginia state constitution and Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution adopted the law.
The Sixth Amendment states that anyone under arrest should be “informed of the nature and cause of the accusation” against them and is allowed to demand bail for a bailable offense.
Later, the Judiciary Act of 1789 proclaimed that noncapital offenses (crimes for which the death penalty was not applicable) were to be considerable bailable offenses. For capital crimes, the chance at bail was up to the discretion of the presiding judge.
From 1789 to 1966, the bail system in the United States remained unchanged. Then, in 1966, Congress passed the Bail Reform Act, which poses an opportunity for defendants to ensure their release for as little financial burden as possible. Primarily, the poor were not charged for being poor.
The next revision to the law came with the Bail Reform Act of 1984, in which discrimination against the poor was further stamped out. The new law states that defendants are held until trial if they are considered dangerous to the community and also outlined who could be held without bail – serious crimes, repeat offenders, etc.