The History of Bail

police-780322_1280After an arrest, you are afforded the opportunity to make bail and be released from the custody of law enforcement while you await your trial. Today, making bail is a common and relatively simple practice. However, this has not always been the case.

The American conception of bail has its roots in English bail law that first develop during the Middle Ages and become more formalized over time through various laws. Becuase of the link between the United States and England, American bail law shares a notice resemblance to English bail law.

The Statute of Westminster

In Medieval England, Sheriffs were given authority by the Crown to detain and release suspected criminals. However, many of the sheriff engaged in corrupt practices, so in 1275 Parliment passed the Statute of Westminster, which placed limits for the first time on bail by establishing which crimes were and were not bailable.

The English Bill of Rights

The English Bill of Rights includes a phrase that is recognizable due to its similarity to the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution – “Excessive bail ought not to be required.” This marked a prohibition from exorbitant bail costs.

Colonial Constitutions and the US Constitution

Because of the close connection between England and the United States, it is easy to observe several similarities between the two countries’ bail laws. One of the places that these similarities exists were the colonial constitutions and the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution. Again a prohibition against “excessive bail” appears here.

Judiciary Act of 1789

Similar to the Statute of Westminster, the Judiciary Act of 1789 defined bailable and non-bailable offenses. It also gave judges the authority to detain suspected criminals in capital cases.

Bail Reform Act of 1966

While the Eighth Amendment prevents courts from requiring excessive bail, there was no right to bail guaranteed by the US Constitution. The Bail Reform Act of 1966 created a statutory right to bail where one did not previously exist.

Today’s Federal Bail Statutes

Some revisions to the United States Federal Code in 1984 altered the Bail Reform Act of 1966 by giving judges the ability to decide whether or not to detain a suspected criminal and deny bail based on the danger he or she could pose to the public.