Six Facts About the Bail Bond Industry: When Did It All Begin?

The bail bond industry in the United States has a noble, colorful and most interesting history. Consider the following six perhaps not-so well-known facts about bail bonds, the people who made the industry what it is today and the story of how it has evolved down through time.

English Roots and the Magna Carta

Did you know that the American bail system is deeply rooted in English law? It all began back in 1215 with the Magna Carta, which was a document designed to limit the power of the reigning monarch.

The significance of this doctrine is no better expressed than by one of the greatest English statesman who ever lived, Winston Churchill, who said back in 1956: "Here is a law which is above the King and which even he must not break. …”

Writ of Habeous Corpus and Unlawful Detainment  

The Writ of Habeous Corpus, which translates from the Latin as “you have the body”, protects citizens from unlawful incarceration. Due to the fact that prisons are loaded with those who scream they are wrongly convicted and sometimes are, this writ presents a heavy challenge to the court system. It demands a stringent and exhaustive review of the imposed sentence, and it cannot be compromised. The Writ of Habeous Corpus represents the centerpiece of our fundamental liberties.

The Statute of Westminster and Bailable Crimes

Until the passage of the Statute of Westminster in 1275, bailable and non-bailable offenses were determined by the sole discretion of the local sheriffs who had the authority to either release or hold suspects. They were allowed to decide the amount of bail based on any standard they deemed necessary. This carte blanche was often exploited, paving the way for the Statute of Westminster, which firmly established limits of power.  

There were still problems however, as under the new provisions, some offenses were excluded and almost all the restrictions concerned the abuse of the local sheriffs. The justices were exempt from its rulings as well.

American Colonists and Bail

Did you know that until the American Revolution, the colonial interpretation of the institution of bail exclusively mirrored that of the English? Afterwards, the colonists broke free of the bonds of their Mother Country and established their own policies, albeit they were still very similar to those of their forebears.

The Eighth Amendment and the Bail System

The Eighth Amendment to our constitution established the nation’s judicial system and the structure of the bail process as we know it today. It specifically addresses the issue of bail in these words:
“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

The Eighth Amendment is the justification for the bail bond industry’s existence, but the bail clause within it is just one aspect of the American bail structure. There are also certain guarantees against imprisonment. The established system demands that anyone facing prison must be informed of his or her crime. This coupled with the categorization of bailable and non-bailable offenses comprise the final components of the American bail system.

The McDonough Brothers and the Bail Bond Industry

In 1898, Peter and Tom McDonough established the very first modern Bail Bond business in the United States in San Francisco.

Wealthy and influential, the brothers were colorful and controversial and Peter especially was an astute businessman with a keen eye for profit and opportunity.

He made a fortune by developing a network of wireless communications with the police stations in outlying areas. Considering this was all before the modern age of telecommunications, this was no small endeavor. Almost as soon as an arrest took place, one of his workers was off seeking a judge to sign a release form, which would automatically free the client on bail.

Peter McDonough was the preeminent bondsman in San Francisco and remains an icon in the history of the bail bond industry.

The American Bail Bond Industry is an outgrowth of the fundamental rights of all citizens. It is designed to protect those rights as determined by the US constitution. It stands as transparent and proud testimony to America and its undying vision of justice for all.

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Posted by M Dee Dubroff, on March 30, 2012 at 11:58 AM