views updated May 17 2018


A common description of the American criminal process begins with the arrest of a person accused of crime who, after booking and possible interrogation by the police, is brought before a judge or judicial officer to have bail set. At this first judicial appearance, the judicial officer may read the charges to the accused, explain the need for and availability of counsel, schedule the defendant's next court date and then set an amount of bail that the defendant must post to gain release before trial. In popular understanding, bail is thought of as a dollar amount and bail system refers to the decision process and financial arrangements, often through bondsmen (compensated sureties), that determine release or confinement of defendants, before adjudication of their charges in the courts.

This traditional picture of bail, associating pretrial release with dollars to be paid by the defendant, represents a narrow conception of the bail function. With a history traced back to the Magna Carta, the statute of Westminster, and the emergence of English common law, bail originally had a broader meaning. Rather than denoting the practice of requiring an amount of currency or other form of financial assets from an accused for release, bail referred to the means employed to provide assurance that a person accused of a crime would face judicial proceedings. Depending on the historical epoch, this assurance could take different forms, from a person's oath to be present to stand trial when the judge made his appearance in the village or town, to placing an individual's property (such as cattle or other domestic animals) or the property of a close relation in the temporary custody of a local official to obtain greater certainty that an individual would be present for the judicial proceedings.

In the United States over the last century, with the growth of population centers and industrializationand with the increasingly impersonal and anonymous nature of urban lifean individual's word or deposit of valued property was deemed insufficient to ensure that the defendant would appear for trial and submit to the judgment of the court. As the use of arrangements once workable in smaller, more rural societies became less practical, they were increasingly replaced by the use of cash bail to guarantee a defendant's release. The dollar became the currency for determining pretrial release or detention in Americain the form of cash bail or bond. The defendant's prospects for remaining free during adjudication were increasingly shaped by the economics of the larger, and more urban, society. Those who remained in jail before trial were persons who could not afford to post the dollar amount that had been set, while those who gained release somehow could. Dollars became the judge's assessment of the defendant's trustworthinessof the likelihood that the defendant would attend court if released. The ability to post the required cash became the determinant of pretrial release.

The emphasis on financial terms in determining pretrial release or detention also created an irresistible opportunity for private entrepreneurs to enter the judicial process. For profit, bondsmen (more formally referred to as compensated sureties ) could broker the release of detained defendants who could not afford their bail by being paid a premium (usually around 10 percent of the total bail). A defendant held in custody on $10,000 bail, for example, would pay a bondsman $1,000 to gain release before trial. In an adaptation of the earlier practice of having third parties vouch for the released defendant's appearance in court, the bondsman would guarantee the appearance of the defendant in court by putting up a surety bond. In exchange for the premium exacted from the defendant, the bondsman would in theory be responsible to the court for the defendant's entire bail in the event the defendant fled prosecution. This practice was based on the expectation that bondsmen would act as responsible third parties and make certain their clients would appear in courtfor fear of having to forfeit the total amount of bail. At the same time, based on profit motive, bondsmen would have a strong incentive to write bonds for jailed defendantsand thus facilitate responsible releasebecause the premiums they accepted amounted to clear earnings, as long as the defendants appeared.

Advocates of bail reform questioned this primarily financial conception of the bail function, preferring to consider the bail decision as a pretrial release decision. In making the pretrial release decision instead of focusing on the dollars required for release, a judicial officer should determine whether the individual will await adjudication of criminal charges at liberty in the community, and if so under what conditions, or remain in jail under pretrial detention. Reform measures introduced in the 1960s sought to encourage greater use by judges of nonfinancial conditions of release in pretrial release determinations. These initiatives placed great emphasis on personal recognizance release (ROR or "release on own recognizance") and on conditions of supervision or participation in release programs that would help to ensure the defendant's appearance in court. Sparked by the pioneering efforts of the Vera Institute in New York City, bail reform advocates also promoted the establishment of pretrial services agencies to collect information about defendants for the pretrial release decision and to supervise them, if necessary, during the release period.

The purposes of the bail or pretrial release decision

Harsh criticism of bail practices occurred during most of the twentieth century, dating at least from the 1920s when Roscoe Pound, Felix Frankfurter, and others studied criminal justice in Cleveland, and Arthur Beeley studied the jail in Chicago. Caleb Foote's classic study of the Philadelphia bail system and his sequel focusing on practices in the New York courts during the 1950s set the stage for the bail reform movement of the early 1960s. The body of criticism that grew over the last century excoriated the traditional cash bail system and the use of pretrial detention it fostered. The criticism questioned the legitimacy of the uses to which the bail decision was put, the existence of its highly discretionary exercise, the fairness of its application, and, even, its effectiveness.

Three purposes of the pretrial release decision are recognized in the United States at the beginning of the twenty-first century (American Bar Association). The two principal aims, to ensure a defendant's appearance in court and to protect the community from dangerous defendants, are related to a third, more general purpose, maintaining the integrity of the judicial process by preventing interference with victims or witnesses. The laws in many but not all American jurisdictions refer to both the appearance and community-protection aims of pretrial release decisions, if not necessarily the third purpose. However, explicit recognition of a community protection or "danger" agenda in law is a relatively recent development and has been the subject of debate discussed later in this entry.

Until the last decades of the twentieth century, judges or magistrates determined whether a defendant would be confined while awaiting trial with little statutory guidance. Moreover, this all-important liberty decision to release or confine the accused person through the device of cash bail was most often made by the lowest ranking local judicial officialsometimes a misdemeanor court judge, but often a quasi-judicial officer, magistrate, commissioner, or justice not trained in law. When guidance for that decision was provided, state and federal law concerned itself more with how (procedure) to decide bail than with why, and did not refer to a community protection goal. The language of the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution"excessive bail shall not be required"offered no guidance as to the purpose of bail.

In the 1960s, early proponents of bail reform argued that the only constitutionally acceptable purpose of bail was to ensure a defendant's appearance in court (Goldkamp, 1979). Reformers were critical of the then-existing bad system that they believed operated sub rosa to confine defendants perceived to be dangerous, an unconstitutional agenda in their view. The sub rosa detention system, framed in financial terms, resulted in the confinement of a great many poor defendants, based on anticipated future unlawful conduct, and on a subjective judicial prediction of dangerousness that broadly prejudged a defendant's guilt. At the same time, critics argued that when defendants were able to post the cash required, the cash-bail mechanism provided little incentive to defendants to return to court because their money was not refundable when paid to a bondman. To critics, cash bail and the bondsman's fee amounted to a way for defendants to purchase their release before trial, a sort of "ransom" for their freedom (Goldfarb), regardless of their intentions relating to court. The petty thief might not be able to raise a small amount of bail, while the drug dealer could produce large amounts of cash quite easily to gain release. Reform-minded critics advocated a system based less on financial considerations and more on nonfinancial methods for encouraging attendance, and rejected the argument that community safety was a legitimate concern for the release decision.

Opponents of the reform position agreed that an essential aim of pretrial release decisions was to ensure court attendance. However, they insisted that the bail decision had always also concerned itself legitimately with the public safety aim of protecting the community from dangerous defendants. Proponents of the public safety agenda asserted that too many "dangerous" defendants were being released to commit serious crimes in the community.

The preceding 1960s debate about the legitimate purpose(s) of bail was based on competing interpretations of the historical origins of bail in English common law. In looking for guidance from case law, both sides drew on Supreme Court decisions from the early 1950s: Stack v. Boyle (342 U.S. 1 (1951)) supported the reformers' appearance view and Carlson v. Landon (342 U.S. 524 (1952)) supported the danger-prevention function.

In Stack, the Supreme Court wrote that release before trial was "conditioned upon the accused's giving assurance that he will stand trial and submit to punishment if found guilty," and that bail "must be based on standards relevant to the purpose of assuring the presence of defendants." In Carlson, a (noncriminal) deportation proceeding involving the detention without bond of aliens, the Supreme Court appeared to condone a "danger" goal by approving the right of the state to designate classes of defendants for whom bail could be denied by statute; it found in the present case that there was a "reasonable apprehension of hurt from the aliens charged with a philosophy of violence against the government" (541, 542). Danger-prevention advocates interpreted the concept of "apprehension of hurt" as supporting their view that judges are justified in weighing estimates of harm or danger to the community in making release decisions before trial in criminal cases. The debate about the legitimacy (and constitutionality) of a danger-prevention purpose of the bail decision reached a crescendo during and after the passage by Congress of the Bail Reform Act of 1966. In that landmark legislation, the only stated purpose of the pretrial release decision for accused persons was to ensure appearance in court (18 U.S.C.A. 3146(a)). A community protection aim ("danger to the community or any other person") appeared for the first time in an American law, but it applied only to the special case of a defendant seeking release after conviction, while awaiting sentencing or appeals (18 U.S.C.A. 3146(b)).

The American Bar Association's Standards Relating to Pretrial Release, published in 1968, mirrored the bail reform tenets and spirit of the federal legislation, but they also signaled a shift in the debate about the purpose of the pretrial release decision. Although draft standards for preventive detention based on danger were not approved by the ABA, they were discussed and included in an appendix as a model for discussion. Then, in 1970, Congress took the historic step of enacting legislation for the District of Columbia that permitted outright pretrial detention in noncapital cases of defendants posing a danger to "any other person or the community" (D.C. Code: 231321, 1322(a)). The D.C. Code was a modified version of the model outlined in the ABA's draft preventive detention standards. The "Preventive Detention Code" of the District of Columbia constituted the first enactment of a law in the United States authorizing preventive detention of criminal defendants based on estimations of their possible dangerousness (Goldkamp, 1985). The D.C. preventive detention law could not have been enacted without support from both bail reform advocates as well as supporters of the public safety agenda.

The early reform advocates attacked the discretionary and discriminatory practice of detaining defendants sub rosa through manipulation of financial bail. They demanded more objective and explicit procedures. Public safety advocates demanded that danger be an acknowledged and explicit concern of the bail process. The compromise was to accept community safety as a legitimate concern but only to allow it pursuant to narrowly defined procedures and criteria. Moreover, the D.C. law was notable because it expressly prohibited detention of defendants through the use of financial bail conditions. Thus, early reformers lost the argument against the public safety agenda, but gained more explicit procedures and a detention-decision mechanism that responded more to due process concerns, and a system that did not authorize confinement on the basis of cash.

Between 1970 and 1984, a growing number of states revised their laws to permit the consideration of dangerousness at the bail stage. No court ruled authoritatively on the constitutionality of the danger agenda until the D.C. Circuit of Appeals in U.S. v. Edwards (430 A.2d. 1321 (1981)) approved the provisions of the D.C. law (Goldkamp, 1985). Shortly thereafter, Congress enacted the Federal Bail Reform Act of 1984 (18 U.S.C.A.: 31413156). Adapting provisions and concepts from the D.C. law, Congress revised federal law to permit detention of defendants who pose a danger "to the community or any other person." In 1987 in U.S. v. Salerno (481 U.S. 739), the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of pretrial detention under the "danger" provision of the Federal Bail Reform Act of 1984. It declared "preventing danger to the community" to be "a legitimate regulatory goal." Although laws in all states do not explicitly recognize a community safety agenda for pretrial release or have preventive detention statutes, the effect of this legal historythe second transformation of bailhas been to make danger concerns at the bail stage legally acceptable.

The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution and defendant rights

The Eight Amendment of the United States Constitution, which provides only that "excessive bail shall not be required," offers no guidance as to the purposes of bail and the rights of defendants at bail. According to Caleb Foote (1965), bail under English law was construed as a device allowing a defendant to gain release before trial while providing assurance of attendance at court proceedings. Denial of bail, where it occurred, was reserved for those cases in which defendants were likely to flee because they were facing the death penalty. Foote argued that the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution represents an incomplete rendering of the principles of English law that gave birth to the institutions of bail and pretrial detention. Not only did English statutes enumerate the offenses under which a right to bail could be expected (it was restricted in capital cases), but the habeas corpus procedure was also a remedy for unlawful detention. In addition, the English Bill of Rights of 1689 proscribed the use of high bail as a means for securing detention. Foote reports that when these three ingredients (i.e., a specified right to bail, habeas corpus, and the excessive bail clause) were imported by the Americans, the habeas corpus remedy was incorporated under Article 1, section 9 of the Constitution, the excessive bail clause appeared in the Eighth Amendment, but a specific right to bail appeared nowhere. Thus, poorly translated from its English origins according to Foote, the Eighth Amendment contains some of the "most ambiguous language in the Bill of Rights" (1965, p. 969).

There are at least three interpretations of the "right to bail" deriving from the Eighth Amendment (Goldkamp, 1979, pp. 1617). The first, finding no explicit reference to a right to bail in that amendment, conceives of no such right, and defers to statutory provisions to determine when bail must be set as a matter of right, and when it is discretionary. The second interpretation, in finding no explicit instruction from the Constitution or in statute, views bail as a matter of judicial discretion. The excessive bail clause, then, merely decrees that in cases in which a judge determines that bail will be set, it should not be excessive. A third interpretation finds a right to bail implicit in the Eighth Amendment and relies on a historical reading of English law for support.

This latter view, adopted by the early advocates of bail reform, is supported by the proposition that the constitutional prohibition of excessive bail can only stem from a presumption favoring the release of defendants before trial (Foote, 1965, pp. 979981). This position assumes not only that there is a federally "guaranteed right to have bail set, but there also is a guaranteed Federal right to pretrial freedom, which may be abridged only under extreme, high-risk circumstances" (Fabricant, p. 312). Proponents of this interpretation point to language in Stack that (a) there is a presumption that defendants in all noncapital cases will be admitted to bail; and (b) that this presumption is based on the "traditional right to freedom before conviction" deriving from the presumption of innocence, as long as release is "conditioned upon the accused's giving assurance that he will stand trial and submit to punishment if found guilty" (342 U.S. 1, 45 (1951)).

The reasoning of Stack served as the basis for the broad principles of bail reform. Indeed, this conditional right to release is reflected in the language of the Federal Bail Reform Acts of 1966 and 1984 in two ways: (a) in the presumption favoring release of defendants on personal recognizance; and (b) in the presumption favoring release under the least restrictive conditions necessary to ensure appearance. However, the community safety aim was included in the 1984 act. It and the District of Columbia's preventive detention law specify exceptions to the release presumptions, namely, when the defendant's release cannot be "conditioned on . . . giving assurance" of compliant pretrial behavior. Indeed, the presumption in favor of release is reversed for specified categories of defendants facing serious charges and posing serious risks of flight or threat to the community or other persons. Defendants in the designated categories are presumed detained, pending a pretrial detention hearing to determine whether any "condition or combination of conditions" will ensure appearance and public safety. At that hearing, such defendants are placed in the position of having to counter the government's contention that they pose such a risk of harm or flight that they should remain in confinement.

Liberty decisions based on prediction: due process issues

Beyond the issue relating to the constitutional purposes of the bail process and the rights of defendants at bail, other serious problems are associated with the cash-based bail system. These problems derive from the discretionary and predictive nature of the bail decision, its cash-oriented form, and its problematic effects upon defendants and the community. In a period of a few minutes in a high-volume and overcrowded courtroom, and often with little information for guidance, a judge or other judicial officer in his or her discretion must weigh the risk a defendant poses of fleeing the court's jurisdiction (thus thwarting prosecution) or of posing a danger to the community, victims, witnesses, or jurors.

Predicting human behavior is a difficult undertaking in whatever setting, and regardless of whether subjective or statistical methods are employed. In deciding pretrial release at the first judicial stage, the problem faced by the judge, challenging under the best of circumstances, seemingly requires talents of judicial prognostication. The judge must "predict" the likelihood that a defendant will flee or commit a crime by reasoned guess or experienced hunch. The task is made more difficult because the judge is not asked to make a broader assessment, for example, of whether the defendant will ever reoffend, but is instead required to predict more narrowly what will occur during the narrow preadjudication period. The judge, who cannot really know what will happen in the short-term future, is nevertheless compelled to make a reasonable pretrial release decision balancing the interests of the defendant with those of the community and the justice system in effective prosecution and safety.

One of the due process arguments raised by critics of pretrial detention procedures is that the "danger" being predictedposing a threat to "the safety of the community or to any other person"is impermissibly vague in its definition. The more vague the description of danger, the more difficult for a defendant to show that he or she would avoid "it." Since 1970 a growing number of states have incorporated danger provisions in statutes and constitutions (Goldkamp, 1985). The shift from statutory silence to specific mention of the danger purpose in state laws represents a movement in the direction of greater explicit recognition of that goal and represents an improvement over practices that addressed danger sub rosa. However, the danger language that has been employed in bail laws may not resolve the vagueness concerns critics have voiced.

In a number of states, for example, rather general danger concerns are indicated, such as "the public would be placed in significant peril" (Colorado), danger to the "safety of the community" (Delaware), "danger to the public" (Vermont), or the defendant's release would be "inimical to public safety" (Minnesota). Unusual danger references include a Georgia law that considers the potential "threat" a defendant may pose to "any property within the community," while laws in at least six states allude to the possible danger defendants may pose to themselves. More specific danger references relate to "serious crime" (a number of states), to "physical harm to persons" (Florida), to "threaten[ing] another with bodily harm" (Minnesota), and "to protect members of the community from serious bodily harm" (Wisconsin). The imprecision of the danger targeted by pretrial detention not only poses a substantive problem for due process, it makes judicial prediction all the more problematic.

Reform-oriented critics of the bail process have argued that pretrial detention laws are unconstitutional and they deprive defendants of their liberty without the due process guaranteed under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. Critics have argued that the future conduct being predicted (danger, threat to the community, etc.) is too vague, that the ability to predict at the bail stage is too errorprone, and that the criteria relied upon to make the bail predictions are often inappropriate to justify depriving an accused of liberty, given the presumption of innocence. Even under optimal prediction conditions, the ratio of incorrect to correct detention decisions ranges from about four to one to about three to one (Angel et al.).

According to critics, detention of a defendant before trial raises a presumption of dangerousness or flight risk (and, worse, of guilt) that the defendant has no means of refuting and leaves the defendant with the dilemma of having to prove the negative, that he or she would not be dangerous if released. Once confined, it is logically impossible for a defendant to demonstrate that a predicted act would not have occurred. Studies have also shown that detained defendants not only suffer the disadvantages of confinement, but are more likely to be convicted and sentenced to confinement upon conviction than their released counterparts. And reform advocates have argued that the best predictive intentions of the bail judiciary notwithstanding, pretrial detention is tantamount to punishment before trial, just as in Alice in Wonderland where punishment preceded the trial.

These due process arguments have been rejected by the courts. U.S. v. Edwards tested the constitutionality of the D.C. preventive detention law. And, in U.S. v. Salerna the U.S. Supreme Court considered a challenge to the constitutionality of pretrial detention under the federal procedures specified in the Bail Reform Act of 1984 in U.S. v. Salerno. (The Supreme Court addressed similar issues in the juvenile context in a case testing the constitutionality of New York juvenile detention law in Schall v. Martin (467 U.S. 253 (1984)).)

The courts evaluated the procedures authorized by the statutes. The procedures specified under the federal and D.C. laws include notice, a right to be present at the detention hearing, a right to be represented by counsel, a right to testify or present witnesses, and a right to confront and cross-examine prosecution witnesses. The challenged laws also list detention criteria to be taken into consideration by the judicial officer in determining whether "no condition or combination of conditions of release" will ensure the attendance of the defendant in court or protect the safety of the community or any other person. Schall, Edwards, and Salerno were consistent in finding that, despite the imperfections of detention decision-making and the difficulties of predicting future behavior, pretrial detention is an appropriate regulatory function and the procedures in the respective detention laws meet minimum requirements of due process.

Disparity in bail and detention: equal protection issues

Criticism of cash-based bail practices have extended beyond questions about the fairness (and substance) of the procedures employed to arrive at a pretrial detention decision to concern regarding the disparate consequences of those practices. Bail reform advocates have argued that the discretionary cash-based system produces unfair results from an equal protection perspective, because similar defendants charged with the same offenses and with the similar backgrounds are often treated differently.

Unfettered judicial discretion in bail proceedings results in outcomes described by critics as random and arbitrary. The likelihood of detention has varied among judges in the same court and across courts, and even by a single judge over time. Studies of bail decisions have found at least as much disparityunequal treatment of similar individualsas was found in studies of sentencing and parole that sparked major reforms of those justice decisions (Goldkamp, 1979).

Reform advocates have targeted cash bail as the source of unequal treatment of defendants at bail. They have claimed that the cash-based charge-governed system institutionalizes economic discrimination against the poor. According to this reform perspective, the treatment of defendants has been unequal because some can afford their freedom and some cannot. Critics of such bail practices do not believe a person's ability to afford cash bail, a reflection of economic background, is related to determining the likeli-hood that he or she will fail to attend court. Unfortunately, because of the economic basis of cash-based pretrial release, at least in most urban settings, racial bias is also a result. African Americans and other minorities, who disproportionately are numbered among the poorest of the poor, also disproportionately fill the jails as pretrial detainees.

This economic effect has been accentuated by the role of the bondsman, who selects those persons he would assist on the basis of profit motive. Persons without assets and ties are not viewed as good business risks and are not accepted by bondsmen, who have an economic interest in doing business with only the most reliable of defendants (those with sufficient assets). In addition, persons charged with minor crimes who cannot afford even low amounts of bail are also not accepted by bondsmen because the fees to be earned are too small.

Implicit in the equal protection criticism of American bail practices is the assertion that the two classes of accused produced through cash bailthose released and those detained before trialare formed by inappropriate, illegitimate, or invidious distinctions (Goldkamp, 1979). Rather than finding that the dividing line between release and confinement is formed on the basis of race and wealth, a rational and fair system would shape release on the basis of factors relating to appearance and public safety. In short, a constitutional analysis of bail practices would require that the factors determining pretrial release be demonstrably and logically, if not empirically, related to the risk of flight and crime.

Bail reform strategies

During the last decades of the twentieth century, a number of studies examined the factors most predictive of pretrial misconduct. These studies did not find support for the conventional judicial wisdom that the more serious the defendant's criminal charges, the greater the risk of flight or crime posed. Risk of pretrial misconduct was found to vary by charge type, but not by charge seriousness in the way generally assumed. In fact, almost the opposite of the conventional wisdom was found to apply: lower-level drug, property, and nuisance crimes were associated with higher rates of failure to appear in court and of pretrial crime; more seriously charged defendants produced relatively lower rates of failure. These actuarial studies of failure-to-appear and pretrial crime did not find that race or economic background were predictors of defendant performance on release (flight or crime), despite their association with the use of pretrial detention under the cash-bail system.

Bail reform in its first generation attacked the problem of unequal treatment at bail in two principal ways: (a) by encouraging the use of more objective criteria in the release decision process (and discouraging the traditional, unthinking reliance on the charge standard); and (b) by reducing reliance on financial bail as the principal currency of release. One of the initial goals of the pioneering Vera Institute in the early 1960s was to encourage judges not to rely on the charge standard, and to consider instead other factors reflecting on a defendant's ties to the community, family relationships, and connections to work or study. The Vera Institute also pioneered by creating a special bail reform agency (later to be known as "pretrial services agency") to support the collection and presentation to the judge of information more objectively related to the risk of a defendant's failure to appear.

The bail reform aim of making the pretrial release decision more rationally related to the purposes of bail (by improving the criteria considered by the judge) also promoted a second important goal of bail reform: to encourage greater use of ROR and other nonfinancial forms of release. The Vera "community ties" strategy sought to encourage a presumption that defendants should, on the whole, be released on personal recognizance. To address the cases of defendants who achieved immediate ownrecognizance release, bail reformers sought to further reduce reliance on cash bail through implementation of conditional release options, including release conditions requiring programs of supervision or treatment of the defendants, thus adding to the judge's confidence that defendants would appear in court.

A third bail reform strategy, for defendants gaining neither ROR nor conditional release, encouraged use of deposit of 10 percent bail, when financial conditions were to be set. Under the "deposit bail" procedure, defendants would deposit with the court a small percentage of the total amount of bail (10 percent of the total), equivalent to what might otherwise have been the bondsman's fee. When the defendant attended all court proceedings, the deposit would be refunded. Developed in Illinois in 1965, the reasoning behind this reform initiative was that the prospect of recovering bail deposited would provide defendants with a strong incentive to appear in court, in contrast to paying a nonrefundable fee to the bondsman for release. The use of nonfinancial forms of pretrial release and deposit bail grew noticeably through the 1960s and beyond, accompanied by a dramatic growth in pretrial services agencies modeled after the early Vera reform prototype.

Building on an analysis of the effects of bail reform, Goldkamp and his colleagues have experimented with another strategy for addressing the core problems associated with traditional bail practices in Boston, Phoenix, and Miami during the 1980s and 1990s (Goldkamp et al.). Their "pretrial release guidelines" experimental approach was premised on the belief that the problems with bail are linked with the unfettered exercise of judicial discretion. They argued that bail reform has been less successful than desired because it has failed to engage judges centrally in the reform process. Therefore, the guidelines strategy was designed as a self-help judicial approach, in which researchers worked with judges in a collaborative process of study and review of actual practices, followed by formulation of a set of judicial policies to serve as a presumptive decision guide for the judges or commissioners who had bail responsibilities.

The rationale for the pretrial release guidelines approach is that if members of the judiciary play a role in identifying the problem, make use of strong data to test various assumptions about the use of detention and release, and take a leadership role in shaping improved bail policies, judicial pretrial release guidelines will have a greater impact on release and detention practices than has been achieved by the bail reform movements to date. Positive results were reported in studies of judicial pretrial release guidelines (Goldkamp et al.), particularly in Philadelphia where the guidelines served as a blueprint for major system reform as well as a tool for dealing with jail overcrowding.

Bail, release and detention in the twenty-first century

Bail practices in the United States have changed considerably in law and practice since Pound and Frankfurter excoriated the bondsmen as "anomalous" and as "that extra legal parasite" in their study of justice in Cleveland in 1922, and since Arthur Beeley found in his study of the Chicago jail that many "dependable" defendants who could have been released safely and be expected to return to court were held in detention merely because they were poor and unable to post the cash bail. The bail reform movement developed pretrial services agencies to assist in pretrial release decisions and encouraged greater nonfinancial release. The first generation of bail reform shaped the landmark legislation in the Federal Bail Reform Act of 1966 and transformed the way important liberty decisions were conducted. The second generation of reform built on these accomplishments and explicitly recognized the community protection agenda of the pretrial release and detention process, establishing procedures for determining pretrial detention and its review.

With much accomplished, there is also much that remains unresolved or only partly addressed. Traditional cash-based detention practices remain the norm in most non-federal jurisdictions at the outset of the twenty-first century. Few states have adopted the federal or District of Columbia models of pretrial release decision-making. And, when features of these laws have been adopted by states, they have been accepted in a piecemeal fashion, breaking key elements away from the overall reform concept, and failing to incorporate the due process framework for detention decisions in routine cases. No state that has added preventive detention procedures to determine dangerousness has adopted the District of Columbia provisions prohibiting detention through cash bail. The result is that by allowing the discretionary cash-bail system (and the use of bondsmen and their bond schedules) to continue to exist, the detention provisions remain obscure and seldom employed. The use of nonfinancial bail has increased since the 1960s; "low risk" defendants with strong community ties are no longer commonly held in jail. However, the nation's historically overcrowded jails are still filled with the poorest of the poor, principally urban minorities, who are held on financial bail they cannot raise. Efforts to work with the judiciary to review and improve judicial pretrial release decisions are still rare.

John S. Goldkamp

See also Appeal; Arraignment; Capital Punishment: Legal Aspects; Civil and Criminal Divide; Jails; Prediction of Crime and Recidivism; Preliminary Hearing; Trial, Criminal.


Angel, Arthur; Green, E.; Kaufman, H.; and Van Loon, E. "Preventive Detention: An Empirical Analysis." Harvard Civil RightsCivil Liberties Law Review 6 (1971): 301.

American Bar Association. Pretrial Release Standards rev. ed. Chicago: American Bar Association, 1985.

Beeley, Arthur. The Bail System in Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1927.

Fabricant, Neil. "Bail as a Preferred Freedom and the Failures of New York's Revision." Buffalo Law Review 18, no. 1 (19681969): 303.

Foote, Caleb. "Compelling Appearance in Court: Administration of Bail in Philadelphia." University of Pennsylvania Law Review, 102 (1954): 1031.

. "The Coming Constitutional Crisis in Bail: I." University of Pennsylvania Law Review 113 (1965): 959.

Frankfuter, Felix, and Pound, Roscoe. Criminal Justice in Cleveland. Cleveland: Cleveland Foundation, 1922; Montclair, N.J.: Patterson-Smith, 1968.

Goldfarb, Ronald. Ransom: A Critique of the American Bail System. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1965.

Goldkamp, John S. Two Classes of Accused: A Study of Bail and Detention in American Justice. Cambridge, Mass.: Ballinger Publishing Co., 1979.

. "Danger and Detention: A Second Generation of Bail Reform." Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 76, no. 1 (1985): 174.

Goldkamp, John S.; Gottfredson, Michael R.; Jones, Peter R.; and Weiland, Doris. Personal Liberty and Community Safety: Pretrial Release in the Criminal Courts. New York: Plenum, 1995.


Carlson v. Landon, 342 U.S. 524 (1952).

Schall v. Martin, 467 U.S. 253 (1984).

Stack v. Boyle, 342 U.S. 1 (1951).

U.S. v. Edwards, 430 A.2d. 1321 (1981).

U.S. v. Salerno, 481 U.S. 739 (1987).


views updated May 21 2018


Bail is the prevailing method by which American law has dealt with a puzzling problem: what to do with a person accused of crime during the time between arrest and trial? Imprisonment imposed before trial subjects one who has not been and may never be convicted to disabilities that have all the attributes of punishment, disrupts employment and family ties, hampers the preparation of a defense, increases pressures to plead guilty, and, compared with bailed defendants, may prejudice trial outcomes and lead to more severe sentences. The development of the institution of bail over centuries of English history and its acceptance and liberalization in colonial America was an attempt to mitigate these handicaps and, by affording an opportunity for pretrial release, to emphasize the values underlying the presumption of innocence while also minimizing the risk that an accused who was not jailed would flee and evade justice. Thus bail makes possible pretrial release if the accused can provide financial security, which is subject to forfeiture if the conditions of the bond are violated.

Traditionally, the amount of security is set in an amount deemed by the court to be sufficient to deter flight and enforce compliance with the court's orders. The defendant's own money or property may be put up for this purpose, but in modern times the prevalent method of providing the required security is the purchase by the defendant of a commercial bail bond for a premium, usually about ten percent of the prescribed security. Conditional release on bail may also be available at later stages of the criminal process, for example, pending appeal after conviction or pending a hearing on parole or probation revocation, but the predominant use of bail and the most difficult questions raised by its administration relate to the pretrial period.

A "right to bail" is not a right to pretrial release but merely a right to have a court set the amount of the security to be required. A majority of criminal defendants have little or no financial ability to provide security. Furthermore, bondsmen can and often do refuse to bond those they regard as poor risks even if the amount of the premium is tendered. Thus a high rate of pretrial detention of those unable to provide bail has long been a characteristic feature of American criminal justice. Since the early 1960s a widespread bail reform movement has introduced procedures designed to reduce the dependence of the traditional system on the requirement of financial security, but these changes have supplemented rather than replaced money bail, which remains a dominant feature of the system.

The only direct reference to bail in the Constitution is the brief clause in the Eighth Amendment that "excessive bail shall not be required." There are serious problems in the interpretation of the scope of this limited clause and its application under modern conditions. On its face the language is only a restriction of the amount of security which a judge can require, and poses no constitutional barrier to legislative or judicial denial of bail. Alternatively, the clause has been read as necessarily implying a right to bail, as otherwise the clause is left with little significance.

There is no easy resolution of this problem. To infer from the clause a right to bail that is protected from legislative abrogation reads into it words that are not there and necessarily leaves the scope of such a right uncertain. But a literal interpretation renders the clause superfluous, as procedural due process of law would protect against judicial abuse of a legislatively granted right to bail. A narrow reading also takes no account of the long history of what the Supreme court in Stack v. Boyle (1951) called the "traditional right to freedom before conviction … secured only after centuries of struggle," and leaves in a constitutional vacuum a critical stage of the criminal process which has significant impact on the implementation of other constitutionally protected rights of defendants. For nearly two centuries the question has remained unresolved, for two main reasons. First, the transitory nature of detention and the poverty of most defendants unable to raise bail pose barriers to appellate review. Second, until 1984 federal statutory law and the constitutions or laws of most states guaranteed a pretrial right to bail in all but some capital cases, thereby rendering it unnecessary to reach the constitutional issue. Little direct evidence of what was intended by the framers of the clause can be found in the sparse and inconclusive legislative history of the Eighth Amendment's proposal by the First Congress. At the same time that Representative james madison introduced the amendment in the House, a Senate committee was preparing the judiciary act of 1789, which included a right to bail in all but capital cases. Both bail provisions were uncontroversial and undebated, and both went their separate ways to enactment. There is no indication that anyone in Congress recognized the anomaly of incorporating the basic right governing pretrial practice in a statute while enshrining in the Constitution the derivative protection against judicial abuse of that right. The anomaly is compounded by Madison's insistence, in the House debates on the bill of rights, that whereas England's Bill of Rights raised a barrier only against the power of the Crown, "a different opinion prevails in the United States," where protection against abuse "must be levelled against the Legislative" branch. What we do know, however, about the origin of the clause and the context in which it arose sheds some light relevant to its interpretation.

The words of the bail clause were taken verbatim from the revolutionary virginia declaration of rights of 1776, drafted by george mason, and by him taken, with the substitution of "shall" for "ought," from the 1689 English Bill of Rights. Mason states that his purpose in drafting the Virginia Declaration was to provide effectual securities for the essential rights of civil liberty, and it is difficult to believe that he intended to deal with the issue of pretrial liberty by words that, literally construed, offer no security against its denial. Although steeped in English constitutional history, Mason was not a lawyer, may not have understood the complexity of the English law, and may have thought that the clause encapsulated the whole subject. In its English context, however, the excessive bail clause in the 1689 Bill of Rights was the culmination of a chain of events that went back to magna carta and of a long succession of detailed statutes that established the scope of the right to bail.

This development was climaxed in the seventeenth century by three important acts of Parliament which had been provoked by abuses in the administration of bail law. In 1628, by the petition of right, the provision of Magna Carta that "no freeman shall be … detained in prison … unless by the law of the land" was made applicable to pretrial detention and thus was not limited, as the Crown had maintained in Darnell's Case (1627), to imprisonment only after conviction. Next, the habeas corpus act of 1679, after referring to prolonged detentions caused by the inability of detainees to get any judge to set and take bail, mandated a speedy procedure for this purpose. Finally, the Bill of Rights of 1689 sought to curb the judicial abuse of requiring excessive bail. Thus the English structure was tripartite, and protection against denial of pretrial release through the prohibition of excessive bail must be read in the context not only of the extraordinary procedure provided by habeas corpus but also with reference to the long history of parliamentary bail statutes. Habeas corpus, of course, was included in the body of the American constitution, but the substantive right to bail was omitted. The argument that this omission seems to have been inadvertent at a time when the Framers were preoccupied with other, more immediately pressing issues, and that such a substantive right must have been the intent of the clause, is the core of the historical case for a broad interpretation.

Beginning with the massachusetts body of liberties in 1641, most of the American colonies reduced the number of capital offenses and otherwise liberalized the English law of bail, and in 1682 Pennsylvania extended the right to bail to those charged with all offenses except those capital cases "where the proof is evident or the presumption great," language that was widely copied in state constitutions after Independence. Besides the Judiciary Act of 1789, the closest contemporary record reflecting what seems to have been a widespread political approach to the right to bail, at the time that the Bill of Rights was before the First Congress, was the enactment two years earlier by the continental congress of the northwest ordinance for the governance of the territories beyond the Appalachians. In substantially the same language as that used in Pennsylvania nearly a century earlier, the ordinance made bailable as of right those charged with any except capital offenses.

Given the widespread right to bail that had been provided by federal statute and state law, it is not surprising that until recent years there has been a dearth of litigation asserting an Eighth Amendment constitutional right to pretrial bail. The few occasions on which the Supreme Court has dealt with the subject have not required a resolution of the issue, but there are inconclusive and inconsistent obiter dicta in some of the cases. On the one hand, in Schilb v. Kuebel (1971), which upheld a bail reform statute, the Court said that "Bail, of course, is basic to our system of law," and earlier a unanimous Court in Stack v. Boyle had stressed the importance of providing for pretrial release lest "the presumption of innocence, secured only after centuries of struggle, would lose its meaning." But in Carlson v. Landon, decided in the same term as Stack, a 5–4 Court held that alien communists were not entitled to bail pending adjudication of deportation charges against them. Most of the Carlson majority's long opinion concerned the limited rights of aliens, the classification of deportation as a noncriminal proceeding, and the validity and exercise of the attorney general's discretionary delegated power to bail aliens; but it also included six sentences implying that even in criminal proceedings the Eighth Amendment does not afford a right to bail. Although frequently cited, considering the noncriminal emphasis in the case and the brevity and superficiality of the Eighth Amendment analysis, the Carlson obiter dictum warrants little weight. Probably more significant is schall

The Court stressed the noncriminal classification of the proceeding; it noted the limited rights of juveniles compared with adults and the detention's very limited duration; and it observed that there is no historical tradition of a right to juvenile pretrial release and that the detention practice that was upheld has existed throughout the country. Despite all these distinguishing characteristics, the weight given to the importance of preventing pretrial crime and to the possibility of its prediction is suggestive of how the Court might deal with parallel questions in an adult denial-of-bail criminal case.

A number of other controversial issues in pretrial bail law will remain whether or not the Supreme Court infers some form of a right to bail from the Eighth Amendment. The 1984 federal Bail Reform Act and some state constitutional or statutory amendments permit preventive detention of those charged with noncapital offenses if a court finds that pretrial release would pose a danger of future criminal activity. Besides extending the traditional practice which has denied the right to bail only in some capital cases, these enactments also breach long-standing prece -

dent that only the risk of failure to appear for trial or other limited conduct directly impairing the court's processes, such as threats against witnesses, is relevant to the bail decision. Although the change is in some sense more theoretical than real, direct authorization for judges to explore the uncharted waters of predictions of future dangerousness will in practice undermine the values that gave rise to bail and result in further increases in the proportion of defendants jailed pending trial.

Bail is not constitutionally excessive if the amount does not exceed that normally required for the charged offense. These normal amounts are sufficient to result in very high rates of detention and to mask the existence of de facto preventive detention for those unable to post bond. It was a concern for more equal justice in criminal law administration and a reaction against this discrimination against the poor that gave rise to the bail reform movement of the 1960s and the widespread introduction of other incentives and sanctions as substitute deterrents for money bail. Although this reform, unevenly and incompletely implemented, has had some success, the number of those detained has remained high and is growing. The issue of blatant wealth discrimination in bail law administration remains to be resolved.

Caleb Foote


Flemming, Roy B. 1982 Punishment before Trial: An Organizational Perspective of Felony Bail Processes. New York: Longman's.

Foote, Caleb 1985 The Coming Constitutional Crisis in Bail.University of Pennsylvania Law Review 113:959–999, 1125–1185.

Freed, Daniel J. and Wald, Patricia M. 1964 Bail in the United States, 1964. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice.

Tribe, Laurence H. 1970 An Ounce of Detention. Virginia Law Review 56:371–407.


views updated May 17 2018


The system that governs the status of individuals charged with committing crimes, from the time of their arrest to the time of their trial, and pending appeal, with the major purpose of ensuring their presence at trial.

In general, an individual accused of a crime must be held in the custody of the court until his or her guilt or innocence is determined. However, the court has the option of releasing the individual before that determination is made, and this option is called bail. Bail is set by the judge during the defendant's first appearance. For many misdemeanors, bail need not be set. For example, the defendant may be released on the issuance of a citation such as a ticket for a driving violation or when booked for a minor misdemeanor at a police station or jail. But for major misdemeanors and felonies, the defendant must appear before a judge before bail is determined.

The courts have several methods available for releasing defendants on bail. The judge determines which of these methods is used. One alternative is for the defendant to post a bail bond or pledge of money. The bond can be signed by a professional surety holder, the accused, or the family and friends of the accused. Signing the bail bond is a promise that the defendant will appear in the specified criminal proceeding. The defendant's failure to appear will cause the signers of the bond to pay to the court the amount designated. The amount of bail is generally an amount determined in light of the seriousness of the alleged offense.

A defendant can also be released upon her or his own recognizance, which is the defendant's written, uninsured promise to return for trial. Such a release occurs only if the suspect has steady employment, stable family ties, and a history of residence in the community. Willful violation of the terms of a personal recognizance constitutes a crime.

Other conditions may also be set regarding the release of the defendant. The Bail Reform Act of 1984 (18 U.S.C.A. §§ 3141–3150) provided for many additional conditions that do not rely upon finances and that reflected current trends to move away from financial requirements for freedom. These conditions came about, in part, owing to concerns regarding the discriminatory nature of bail toward the poor. The Bail Reform Act allows for conditional releases dependent upon such circumstances as maintaining employment, meeting curfews, and receiving medical or psychiatric treatment.

Civil Actions

A defendant in a civil action can be arrested to ensure that he or she will appear in court to respond to the plaintiff's claims. Civil arrest prevents a defendant from leaving the jurisdiction to evade the litigation, and from attempting to conceal or dispose of assets in order to keep the plaintiff from collecting on the judgment if the plaintiff prevails. Since civil arrest is a drastic remedy, state laws must be consulted to determine when it may be used. The purpose of bail in a civil action is to ensure the presence of the defendant at trial and to guarantee the payment of a debt or the fulfillment of some civil duty, as ordered by the court.

The court sets the amount of bail, which is generally based on the probable amount of damage against the defendant. In some instances, if informed of changed circumstances, the court might increase or reduce bail. Cash, as opposed to a bail bond, may be deposited with the court only when authorized by statute. The purpose of the arrest and the statutory provisions determine whether this deposit may be used to pay the judgment awarded to the plaintiff.

Criminal Prosecutions

The objective of bail in criminal actions is to prevent the imprisonment of the accused prior to trial while ensuring her or his appearance at trial. Constitutional and statutory rights to bail prior to conviction exist for most offenses, but state constitutional provisions and statutes must be consulted to determine the offenses to which bail applies. The Bail Reform Act of 1984 governs bail in federal offenses. It provides the federal magistrate with alternatives to the incarceration of the defendant. If the charge is a noncapital offense (an offense not punishable by death), the defendant may be released on her or his own recognizance. If there is a reasonable likelihood that the defendant will not return for trial, the judge may impose bail. The judge may also release the defendant into the custody of a

designated person or organization for supervision. Restricting the residence, extent of travel, and personal associations of the accused are other options.

Discretion of the Court

A court exercises its discretion with respect to the allowance of bail. In reaching its decision, it evaluates the circumstances of the particular case, including the existence of doubt as to the accused person's appearance at trial. Unreasonable delay or postponement in the proceeding, which is not attributable to the accused, usually constitutes a ground for bail—in some jurisdictions, by absolute right; more frequently, at the discretion of the court.

In jurisdictions in which it is neither proscribed nor regarded as an absolute right, the grant of bail pending a motion for a new trial, a review, or an appeal is also discretionary. The grant of bail is then determined in light of the probability of reversal, the nature of the crime, the likelihood of the defendant's escape, and the character of the defendant.

The decision to grant or deny bail is reviewable, but the scope of the review is limited to whether the court abused its discretion in its determination.

The amount of bail set is within the discretion of the court. Once fixed, it should not be modified, except for good cause. An increase cannot be authorized when the arrest warrant specifies the amount of the bail. An application for a change in bail is presented to the court by a motion based on an affidavit (a voluntary written statement of facts) confirmed by the oath of the person making it. The affidavit must be taken before a person authorized to administer such an oath and must contain the facts justifying the change. The eighth amendment to the Constitution and the provisions of most state constitutions prohibit excessive bail, meaning bail in an amount greater than that necessary to ensure the defendant's appearance at trial.

The Bail Reform Act of 1984 helped to set guidelines allowing courts to consider the danger a defendant might present if released on bail. This response to the problem of crimes committed by individuals who had been released on bail marked a significant departure from earlier philosophies surrounding bail. Bail laws took on a new importance; they would ensure the appearance of the defendant in proceedings, and they would see to the safety of the community into which the defendant was released.

Pursuant to the 1984 act, if the court deems that the accused may, in fact, pose a threat to the safety of the community, the accused may be held without bail. In 1987, United States v. Salerno, 481 U.S. 739, 107 S. Ct. 2095, 95 L. Ed. 2d 697, addressed the constitutionality of holding an individual without bail while awaiting criminal trial. The Supreme Court held that due process was not violated by the detention of individuals without bail.

Breach and Forfeiture

A breach of the bail bond occurs in both civil and criminal actions when the defendant "jumps bail" or "skips bail"—that is, deliberately fails to return to court on the specified date, thereby forfeiting the amount of the bond. The act of jumping bail is either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending upon statute. The mandatory appearance required in a bail arrangement consists not merely of responding to the charges but also of attendance by the defendant at the trial and sentencing by the court. Appearance by counsel ordinarily does not prevent a breach, although under some statutes, where the offense is a misdemeanor, such an appearance might be sufficient.

When a bond is breached, the court enters a judgment of forfeiture of the bail. In some jurisdictions, the judgment is appealable, but only if the failure to comply with the conditions of the bond was excusable and the state suffered no loss of rights against the defendant.

A final judgment normally cannot be entered on recognizance or bail bond without additional proceedings. Such proceedings are usually of a civil nature and follow the forfeiture of bail. These proceedings can be commenced by a writ (a court order) of scire facias (a judicial writ requiring the person against whom it is brought to show cause why the party bringing it should not have advantage of such record) or by an independent action.

further readings

Bredefeld, Nicole J. 2001. "The Bail Reform Act of 1984 and Felons who Possess Weapons: Discrepancy Among the Federal Courts." Seton Hall Legislative Journal 26 (September): 215–62.

Colbert, Douglas L., Ray Paternoster, and Shawn Bushway. 2002. "Do Attorneys Really Matter? The Empirical and Legal Case for the Right of Counsel at Bail." Cardozo Law Review 23 (May): 1719–93.

Goldfarb, Ronald. 1965. Ransom: A Critique of the American Bail System. New York: Harper & Row.

Israel, Jerold H., ed. 2001. Criminal Procedure: Constitutional Limits, in a Nutshell. 6th ed. St. Paul, Minn.: West Group.

LaFave, Wayne R., Jerold H. Israel, and Nancy J. King, eds. 2000. Criminal Procedure. 3d ed. St. Paul, Minn.: West Group.

Sharma, R. 2001. Human Rights and Bail. New Delhi, India: APH Publishing.

Thomas, Wayne H. 1976. Bail Reform in America. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

United States House of Representatives. Committee on the Judiciary. Subcommittee on the Constitution. 2000. Bounty Hunter Responsibility Act of 1999: Hearing Before the Subcommittee on the Constitution of the Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives, One Hundred Sixth Congress, second session, on H.R. 2964, March 30,2000. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.


Due Process of Law; Eighth Amendment; Recognizance.


views updated Jun 11 2018

bail1 / bāl/ • n. the temporary release of an accused person awaiting trial, sometimes on condition that a sum of money be lodged to guarantee their appearance in court: he has been released on bail. ∎  money paid by or for such a person as security.• v. [tr.] (usu. be bailed) release or secure the release of (a prisoner) on payment of bail: his son called home to get bailed out of jail.See also bail out at bail3 .PHRASES: jump bail inf. fail to appear for trial after being released on bail: he jumped bail and was on the run until his bail pay a sum of money as bail: I posted bail for him.DERIVATIVES: bail·a·ble adj.bail2 • n. 1. a bar that holds something in place, in particular: ∎ Fishing a bar that guides fishing line on a reel. ∎  a bar on a typewriter or computer printer that holds the paper steady.2. an arched handle, such as on a bucket or a teapot: [as adj.] drawers fitted with brass bail handles.bail3 • v. 1. [tr.] scoop water out of (a ship or boat): the first priority is to bail out the boat with buckets. ∎  scoop (water) out of a ship or boat: I started to use my hands to bail out the water.2. [intr.] abandon a commitment, obligation, or responsibility: after 12 years of this, including Sunday Mass with the family, I bailed. ∎  (bail on) let (someone) down by failing to fulfill a commitment, obligation, or responsibility: he looks a little like the guy who bailed on me.PHRASAL VERBS: bail out (of a member of an aircrew) make an emergency parachute descent from an aircraft; eject. ∎ fig. become free of an obligation or commitment; discontinue an activity: she felt ready to bail out of the corporate rat race.bail someone/something out release someone or something from a difficulty; rescue: the state will not bail out loss-making enterprises.DERIVATIVES: bail·er n.


views updated Jun 11 2018


BAIL is money or property, usually in the form of a refundable bond, that a defendant posts with a court to obtain his or her release in exchange for a guarantee of appearance later for trial. The right originated in English common law, and both the English Bill of Rights of 1689 and the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibit "excessive bail," that is, an amount greater than necessary to prevent flight by the accused. In Stack v. Boyle (1951), the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the importance of bail in protecting the presumption of innocence of defendants and allowing them to prepare for trial, while acknowledging that traditionally bail has been denied altogether in capital cases.

To relieve the financial burden bail places on low-income defendants, the federal Bail Reform Act of 1966 provides for releases on bases such as family and community ties and previous criminal record. The Bail Re-form Act of 1984, however, permits the denial of bail to defendants deemed likely to be dangers to the community, and the Supreme Court in United States v. Salerno (1987) upheld the legality of such "preventive detentions." The Eighth Amendment has not yet been incorporated under the Fourteenth Amendment, though many states have similar constitutional or statutory prohibitions against excessive bail.


Epstein, Lee, and Thomas G. Walker. "The Pretrial Period and the Right to Bail." In Constitutional Law for a Changing America: Rights, Liberties, and Justice. 4th ed. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, 2001.

Renstrom, Peter G. Constitutional Rights Sourcebook. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 1999.

Jeffrey T.Coster


views updated Jun 27 2018

bail1 †charge, custody XIV; †(security for) temporary release from custody; person(s) providing such security XVI. — OF. bail control, etc., f. baillier bear, rule, give:- L. bājulāre bear a burden, (later) care for, support, f. bājulus carrier.
Hence bail vb. release on bail, be bail for XVI.


views updated May 17 2018

bail2 (cricket, orig. single) XVIII. perh. — F. dial. bail cross-bar, prob. rel. to OF. bail(l)e BAILEY.


views updated May 14 2018

bail3 see BALE3.