A Detailed History of How Bail and the Bail System Works
Traditionally, bail is some form of property deposited or pledged to a court in order to persuade it to release a suspect from jail, on the understanding that the suspect will return for trial or forfeit the bail (and be guilty of the crime of failure to appear).
In most cases bail money will be returned at the end of the trial, if all court appearances are made, no matter whether the person is found guilty or not guilty of the crime accused.
In some countries granting bail is common. Even in such countries, however, bail may not be offered by some courts under some circumstances; for instance, if the accused is considered likely not to appear for trial regardless of bail. Countries without bail imprison the suspect before the trial only if deemed necessary. Legislatures may also set out certain crimes to be unbailable, such as capital crimes.
Under the current law of England and Wales, bail simply refers to the release of the accused before trial. Under Scots law, no deposit or pledge of property is asked for; bail is only granted where the court is satisfied the accused will turn up for trial.
Bail Law in England and Wales
In mediæval England, the sheriffs originally possessed sovereign authority to release or hold suspected criminals. Some sheriffs would exploit the bail for their own gain.
The Statute of Westminster (1275) limited the discretion of sheriffs with respect to the bail. Although sheriffs still had the authority to fix the amount of bail required, the statute stipulates which crimes are bailable and which ones are not.
In the early 17th century, King Charles I ordered noblemen to issue him loans. Those who refused were imprisoned. Five of the prisoners filed a habeas corpus petition arguing that they should not be held indefinitely without trial or bail.
In the Petition of Right (1628) the Parliament argued that the King had flouted Magna Carta by imprisoning people without just cause.
The Habeas Corpus Act 1679 states, "A Magistrate shall discharge prisoners from their Imprisonment taking their Recognizance, with one or more Surety or Sureties, in any Sum according to the Magistrate's discretion, unless it shall appear that the Party is committed for such Matter or offenses for which by law the Prisoner is not bailable."
The English Bill of Rights (1689) states that "excessive bail hath been required of persons committed in criminal cases, to elude the benefit of the laws made for the liberty of the subjects. Excessive bail ought not to be required." This was a precursor of the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution.
Forms of bail
In the UK there are three types of bail that can be given:
˚ Police bail where a suspect is released without being charged but must return to the police station at a given time.
˚ Police to court where having been charged a suspect is given bail but must attend his first court hearing at the time and Court given
˚ Court bail where having already been in court a suspect is granted bail pending further investigation or while the case continues
Police bail before charge
Under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, the police have power to release a person, who has not been charged, on bail. This is deemed to be a release on bail in accordance with sections 3, 3A, 5 and 5A of the Bail Act 1976.
Police bail after charge
After a person has been charged, he must ordinarily be released, on bail or without bail. Unless the accused has a previous conviction (or equivalents in cases of insanity) for certain specified homicide or sexual offences, the accused must be released either on bail or without bail unless:
(a) If the person arrested is not an arrested juvenile
(i) his name or address cannot be ascertained or the custody officer has reasonable grounds for doubting whether a name or address furnished by him as his name or address is his real name or address;
(ii) the custody officer has reasonable grounds for believing that the person arrested will fail to appear in court to answer to bail;
(iii) in the case of a person arrested for an imprisonable offence, the custody officer has reasonable grounds for believing that the detention of the person arrested is necessary to prevent him from committing an offence;
(iiia) in the case of a person who has attained the age of 18, the custody officer has reasonable grounds for believing that the detention of the person is necessary to enable a sample to be taken from him under section 63B below
(iv) in the case of a person arrested for an offence which is not an imprisonable offence, the custody officer has reasonable grounds for believing that the detention of the person arrested is necessary to prevent him from causing physical injury to any other person or from causing loss of or damage to property;
(v) the custody officer has reasonable grounds for believing that the detention of the person arrested is necessary to prevent him from interfering with the administration of justice or with the investigation of offences or of a particular offence; or
(vi) the custody officer has reasonable grounds for believing that the detention of the person arrested is necessary for his own protection;
(b) if he is an arrested juvenile—
(i) any of the requirements of paragraph (a) above is satisfied; or
(ii) the custody officer has reasonable grounds for believing that he ought to be detained in his own interests.
If he is granted bail it will be bail to appear at a Magistrates' Court at the next available sitting.
Bail by a court
Right to bail
Under current law, a defendant has an absolute right to bail if the custody time limits have expired and otherwise ordinarily a right to bail unless there is sufficient reason not to grant it,
Any person accused of committing a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Therefore a person charged with a crime, should not be denied freedom unless there is a good reason.
The main reasons for refusing bail are that the defendant is accused of an imprisonable offence and there are substantial grounds for believing that the defendant would:
1. abscond, or
2. commit further offences whilst on bail, or
3. interfere with witnesses.
The court should take into account:
1. the nature and seriousness of the offence or default (and the probable method of dealing with the defendant for it),
2. the character, antecedents, associations and community ties of the defendant,
3. the defendant’s bail record, and
4. the strength of the evidence.
The court may also refuse bail:
˚ for the defendant's own protection;
˚ where the defendant is already serving a custodial sentence for another offence;
˚ where the court is satisfied that it has not been practicable to obtain sufficient information;
˚ where the defendant has already absconded in the present proceedings;
˚ where the defendant has been convicted but the court is awaiting a pre-sentence report, other report or inquiry and it would be impracticable to complete the inquiries or make the report without keeping the defendant in custody;
˚ where the defendant is charged with a non-imprisonable offence, has already been released on bail for the offence with which he is now accused, and has been arrested for absconding or breaching bail.
Where the accused has previous convictions for certain homicide or sexual offences, the burden of proof is on the defendant to rebut a presumption against bail.
The Criminal Justice Act 2003 amended the Bail Act 1976 restricting the right to bail for adults who tested positive for a Class A drug and refused to be assessed or refused to participate in recommended treatment.
Note: Bail cannot be granted where a defendant is charged with High treason.
Conditions may be applied to the grant of bail, such as living at a particular address or having someone act as surety, if the court considers that this is necessary:
˚ to prevent the defendant absconding;
˚ to prevent the defendant committing further offences whilst on bail;
˚ to prevent the defendant interfering with witnesses; or
˚ for the defendant's own protection (or if he is a child or young person, for his own welfare or in his own interests).
Failure to comply with bail
Failing to attend court on time as required is an offence, for which the maximum sentence in a magistrates’ court is twelve months imprisonment and three years in the Crown Court. (Sentences are usually much shorter than the maximum, but are often custody.) In addition to imposing punishment for this offence, courts will often revoke bail as they may not trust the defendant again. The amended Consolidated Criminal Practice Direction states (at paragraph 1.13.5) that "the sentence for the breach of bail should usually be custodial and consecutive to any other custodial sentence".
Failing to comply with bail conditions is not an offence, but may lead to the defendant being arrested and brought back to court, where they will be remanded into custody unless the court is satisfied that they will comply with their conditions in future.
Bail law in the United States
In pre-independence America, bail law was based on English law. Some of the colonies simply guaranteed their subjects the protections of British law. In 1776, after the Declaration of Independence, those which had not already done so enacted their own versions of bail law.
Section 9 of Virginia's 1776 Constitution states "excessive bail ought not to be required..." In 1785, the following was added, "Those shall be let to bail who are apprehended for any crime not punishable in life or limb...But if a crime be punishable by life or limb, or if it be manslaughter and there be good cause to believe the party guilty thereof, he shall not be admitted to bail."
Section 29 of the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 states that "Excessive bail shall not be exacted for bailable oflences: And all fines shall be moderate."
The Eighth Amendment in the US Federal Bill of Rights is derived from the Virginia Constitution, "Excessive bail shall not be required...", in regard to which Samuel Livermore commented, "The clause seems to have no meaning to it, I do not think it necessary. What is meant by the term excessive bail...?" The Supreme Court has never decided whether the constitutional prohibition on excessive bail applies to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment.
The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, like the English Habeas Corpus Act of 1678, requires that a suspect must "be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation" and thus enabling a suspect to demand bail if accused of a bailable offense.
The Judiciary Act of 1789
In 1789, the same year that the United States Bill of Rights was introduced, Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1789. This specified which types of crimes were bailable and set bounds on a judge's discretion in setting bail. The Act states that all non-capital crimes are bailable and that in capital cases the decision to detain a suspect, prior to trial, was to be left to the judge.
The Judiciary Act states, "Upon all arrests in criminal cases, bail shall be admitted, except where punishment may be by death, in which cases it shall not be admitted but by the supreme or a circuit court, or by a justice of the supreme court, or a judge of a district court, who shall exercise their discretion therein."
The Bail Reform Act of 1966
In 1966, Congress enacted the Bail Reform Act of 1966 which states that a non-capital defendant is to be released, pending trial, on his personal recognizance or on personal bond, unless the judicial officer determines that such incentives will not adequately assure his appearance at trial. In that case, the judge must select an alternative from a list of conditions, such as restrictions on travel. Individuals charged with a capital crime, or who have been convicted and are awaiting sentencing or appeal, are to be released unless the judicial officer has reason to believe that no conditions will reasonably assure that the person will not flee or pose a danger. In non-capital cases, the Act does not permit a judge to consider a suspect's danger to the community, only in capital cases or after conviction is the judge authorized to do so.
The 1966 Act was particularly criticized within the District of Columbia, where all crimes formerly fell under Federal bail law. In a number of instances, persons accused of violent crimes committed additional crimes when released on their personal recognizance. These individuals were often released yet again.
The Judicial Council committee recommended that, even in non-capital cases, a person's dangerousness should be considered in determining conditions for release. The District of Columbia Court Reform and Criminal Procedure Act of 1970 allowed judges to consider dangerousness and risk of flight when setting bail in noncapital cases.
Current U.S. bail law
In 1984 Congress replaced the Bail Reform Act of 1966 with new bail law, codified at United States Code, Title 18, Sections 3141-3150. The main innovation of the new law is that it allows pre-trial detention of individuals based upon their danger to the community; under prior law and traditional bail statutes in the U.S., pre-trial detention was to be based solely upon the risk of flight.
18 USC 3142(f) provides that only persons who fit into certain categories are subject to detention without bail: persons charged with a crime of violence, an offense for which the maximum sentence is life imprisonment or death, certain drug offenses for which the maximum offense is greater than 10 years, repeat felony offenders, or if the defendant poses a serious risk of flight, obstruction of justice, or witness tampering. There is a special hearing held to determine whether the defendant fits within these categories; anyone not within them must be admitted to bail.
State bail laws
Bail laws vary somewhat from state to state, as is typical of U.S. jurisprudence. Generally, a person charged with a non-capital crime is presumptively entitled to be granted bail. Recently, some states have enacted statutes modelled on federal law which permit pretrial detention of persons charged with serious violent offenses, if it can be demonstrated that the defendant is a flight risk or a danger to the community.
Some states have very strict guidelines for judges to follow, with a published bail schedule. Some states go so far as to require certain forfeitures, bail, and fines for certain crimes.
In Texas, bail is automatically granted after conviction if an appeal is lodged, but only if the sentence is fifteen years imprisonment or less. In Tennessee, all offenses are bailable, but bail may be denied to those accused of capital crimes.
Forms of bail
In the United States there are several forms of bail used, these vary from jurisdiction, but the common forms of bail include:
1. Recognizance - a promise made by the accused to the court that he/she will attend all required judicial proceedings and will not engage in illegal activity or other prohibited conduct as set by the court. Typically a monetary amount is set by the court, but is not paid by the defendant unless the court orders it forfeited; this is denominated an unsecured appearance bond or release on one's own recognizance.
2. Surety - when a third party agrees to be responsible for the debt or obligation of the defendant. In many jurisdictions this service is provided commercially by a bail bondsman, where the agent will receive 10% of the bail amount up front and will keep that amount regardless of whether the defendant appears in court. The court in many jurisdictions, especially jurisdictions that prohibit bail bondsmen, may demand a certain amount of the total bail (typically 10%) be given to the court, which, unlike with bail bondsmen, is returned if the defendant does not violate the conditions of bail. This also known as surety on the bond.
3. Cash - typically "cash-only," where the only form of bail that the Court will accept is cash..
4. Combinations - courts often allow defendants to post cash bail or bond, and then impose further conditions, as mentioned below, in order to protect the community or ensure attendance.
Conditions of release - many varied non-monetary conditions and restrictions on liberty can be imposed by a court to ensure that a person released into the community will appear in court and not commit any more crimes. Common examples include: mandatory calls to the police, surrendering passports, home detention, electronic monitoring, drug testing, alcohol counseling, surrendering firearms.
Protective order also called an Order of protection- one very common feature of any conditional release, whether on bail, bond or condition, is a court order requiring the defendant to refrain from criminal activity against the alleged crime victim, or stay away from and have no contact with the alleged crime victim. The former is a limited order, the latter a full order. Violation of the order can subject the defendant to automatic forfeiture of bail and further fine or imprisonment.