August 01, 2018

A Brief History of Bail

By Timothy R. Schnacke
Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.
—Soren Kierkegaard

The history of bail gives us all the answers.” This somewhat pithy statement is one I frequently use to stress the importance of history to pretrial justice today. And, indeed, I am rarely proven wrong. When was the first recorded and recognized instance of a judge setting an unattainable cash bond in America? The answer is 1835, in a bond set for a defendant accused of attempting to kill President Andrew Jackson.1 Are actuarial pretrial risk assessment instruments new? The answer is no, they merely represent the most recent iteration of roughly 100 years of assessing predictors of pretrial success using research.2 Saying that the history of bail gives us all the answers may be somewhat hyperbolic, but even if it only gives us some of the answers, we can say with confidence that those answers are proving crucial to understanding pretrial release and detention in America today.3 In short, the history of bail (release) and no bail (detention) in England and America is important, and knowing that history, as well as key themes from that history, is likely essential to understanding this generation of American bail reform.

Premium Content For:
  • Lawyers Conference
  • National Conference of Specialized Court Judges
  • National Conference of State Trial Judges
  • National Conference of the Administrative Law Judiciary
  • ABA Licensing Partners
  • National Conference of Federal Trial Judges
  • Appellate Judges Conference
  • Judicial Division
Join - Now