Kellen Funk, Columbia Law School, and Sandra G. Mayson, University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, have posted Bail at the Founding:
How did criminal bail work in the founding era? This question has become pressing as bail, and bail reform, have attracted increasing attention, in part because history is thought to bear on the meaning of bail-related provisions in state and federal constitutions. To date, however, there has been no thorough account of bail at the Founding. This Article begins to correct the deficit in our collective memory by describing bail law and practice in the founding era, from approximately 1790 to 1810. In order to give a full account, we surveyed a wide range of materials, including founding-era statutes, case law, legal treatises, and manuals for justices of the peace; and original court, jail, administrative, and justice-of-the-peace records held in archives and private collections.--Dan Ernst
The historical inquiry illuminates three key facts. First, the black-letter law of bail in the founding era was highly protective of pretrial liberty. A uniquely American framework for bail guaranteed release, in theory, for nearly all accused persons. Second: Things were different on the ground. The primary records reveal that, for those who lived on the margins of society, bail practice bore little resemblance to the law on the books, and pretrial detention was routine. The third key point cuts across the law and reality of criminal bail: Both in theory and in practice, the bail system was a system of unsecured pledges, not cash deposits. It operated through reputational capital, not financial capital. This fact refutes the claim, frequently advanced by opponents of contemporary bail reform, that cash bail is a timeless American tradition. The contrast between the law-on-the-books and the practice of bail in the founding era, meanwhile, highlights the difficulty of looking to the past for a determinate guide to legal meaning.