The practice of bail bonds dates back for centuries. Researchers have even found evidence of posting bail as far back as 2700 B.C.! Some ancient clay tablets found in modern-day Iraq describe the details of posted bail bonds.
Throughout the Dark Ages and the early Middle Ages in Europe, there was no formal criminal justice system per se. Yes, defendants were taken to court, but each individual courtroom operated independently of each other, and no formal code of law had been established. Criminals were punished however the court saw fit, which often involved the principle of “an eye for an eye.” Anyone was allowed to execute a criminal. Needless to say, the best course of action for anyone suspected of a crime was to hit the road, fast!
By the 7th century, a more formal court system was introduced with more civilized penalties. But the problem of convicts fleeing the area to avoid paying any restitution continued. The surety system was put into place to discourage the accused from skipping town. The accused would find someone willing to take responsibility for the potential penalty should the accused flee. If they found someone, they were free to go about their business until the trail.
The issue with the surety system is that the upper class and nobility were far more likely to have wealthy friends and associates that could provide surety on their behalf. In 13th-century England, the profession of “bail bondsman” arose out of a need for the lower and middle classes to benefit from this system the same as the upper classes.
It soon became common practice for a bondsman to post money or property in exchange for temporary release from prison. The adoption of the Magna Carta in 1215 involved many changes and improvements to the justice system, including clearer guidelines and regulations about sureties and bail.
In the late 17th century in England, the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679 and the Bill of Rights of 1689 further improved the bail bond system by prohibiting judges from setting excessive bail to prevent unjust imprisonment for minor offenses. These same acts heavily influenced early American policy on bail bonds.
In Colonial America, the individual who provided surety for the accused essentially acted as their chaperone. If the convict fled, whoever accepted their surety payment was responsible for the entire fine.
The founder of the modern bail bond system as we know it was Pete McDonough. Pete, and his brother Tom, established the first known bail bond agency in San Francisco in 1898. Unfortunately, McDonough was something of an unsavory character, which may be why bail bondsmen receive such an unfavorable perception today.
However, as you can see, the bail bond system can trace its origins back to the Dark Ages of England, and even to ancient times. Wide leaders throughout history have understood the importance of allowing the accused to go about their daily lives and avoid unjust imprisonment.
If you or a loved one is facing jail time, contact a local A-Affordable Bail Bond agent today.