History of Bail Bonds

The first modern bail bonds business in America is attributed to Peter McDonough in San Francisco in 1898.
There is some evidence that the first surety bail was agreed upon in what is today modern Iraq. Citizens, released from jail, had an indemnity pay — often in sheep — a pledge that the defendant would show up in court. Stone carvings place the earliest bail bonds 40 centuries ago.

The business model is simple. Get arrested and go to jail. Afterward, you will see a judge who makes the decision about your freedom: let you out while still facing trial — or not.

If the court sets bail, the judge will determine what collateral is needed to make sure you don’t flee. In Nevada, for drug possession, it’s not uncommon for the court to set bail at $30,000. If you have the money, you give it to the court, and they will repay it when you show up for your trial. If you don’t appear, you lose it. If you don’t have $30,000 handy, you have two options: sit in jail and wait for the trial, or hire a bail bondsman. If you get a bondsman you will pay a nonrefundable fee — 15-percent — of the bail and the bondsman guarantees to the court you will show up for trial. Fail to appear and the bondsman will owe the court $30,000.

And then the bondsman comes after you.

There’s been a long vigilante flavor to the bond system. The business is a creature of the Wild West when crimes were often private affairs, and suits were brought not just by the state, but by one party as well. In the instances when the offender was believed to be a danger to society, he was imprisoned. Incarceration was costly and troublesome and often people were detained only to the point that a friend provided a pledge guaranteeing the accused would appear.

That is the start of the modern day bail bond business.

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