OK…maybe we’re overstating this, but bear with us. There is speculation that the bail bondsman/bounty hunter as a staple of American cinema and television is naught but a fading memory. This after California announced a new law that would eliminate cash bail from the state’s judicial system.
Bail in America
But if that happens, what does it say about us? As a country? Americans tend (or tended) to pride themselves on a gritty determination. A willingness to do “whatever it takes” to get the job done. To build the best – from a system of government to the best cars in the world to the strongest military. Basically, to be the “greatest country on Earth.” And despite America’s beginning with a quarrelsome bunch of wealthy, rebellious, and incredibly well-educated men with former ties to England, much of our country’s heritage, laws, and very ethos comes from that same country that once called our united states “the colonies.”
Anglo-Saxon Origins of Bail
Why the digression? Well, as it turns out, the notion of posting bail also came from Anglo-Saxon England. And while there is a general backlash in the current U.S. against all things paternalistic or overtly tied to the country’s Anglo-Saxon/Western European past, the reality is that what we have as Americans in 2018 is built squarely on the intelligence, innovation, stubbornness, and tradition of that diverse bunch of European men that decided to say “no” to the mighty British empire, “no” to the intrusion of religion into government, and “no” to the notion of tyranny.
Does the mere connection between the country’s origin story and bail mean that the latter should be sacrosanct? Well – that actually gets to the heart of the debate. Those in favor of bail reform are willing to ignore or argue against the point that bail is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, while opponents of so-called “reform” adhere strictly to the notion that bail is, in fact, guaranteed by our country’s basic laws. That this plays in their financial favor is not lost on anyone – but dismissing the argument because of the existence of this specific motivation would be a logical fallacy…a high falutin’ notion that our forefathers would have inherently understood but that is largely lost to the significantly less erudite American public in the modern day.
We are Weak (But We Don’t Have to Be)
So here we are, nearly 250 years removed from the founding of the country. A sort of overtly perverse federalism has taken hold. To say that the U.S. is still “the greatest country on earth” is laughable…unless you’re talking about military and “security” capabilities. The best cars come from Japan and Germany. The best healthcare and education is also someplace else. Economic freedom? No, we don’t lead there anymore either. That list goes on and on and on.
What the Hell Does This Have to Do with Bail Bonds?
Nothing. Or everything. Not to get all Dickensian, but it truly is the best of time and the worst of times. We don’t have to keep going down this path, ceding ever-more control over our daily lives to a monolithic, faceless governing body. We don’t need other people to save us. If we look hard enough…really squint and glimpse the past…we may be able to see the toughness that forms the underpinning of our very existence.
Where’s the Common Sense?
In that sense, bail bonds aren’t really at the heart of the matter at all. What’s going on with bail reform is merely a symptom of the slow, creeping death of America. Our criminal justice system is badly broken. Reform IS in fact needed. Minor offenses don’t require bail for release, and those accused of violent crimes or with a history of failures to appear or arrests can be held without bail. But what about the middle? What about serious, non-violent offenses? Bail bonds still serve a real, meaningful purpose. They are necessary.
I always tell people the bail business is disgusting and wonderful,” says Miles Soto, a former bail consultant. “Some bail agents are of the worst caliber. But when used correctly, bail can be used to help people in a wonderful way.
The “all or nothing” mentality that now pervades our modern thinking is not nearly nuanced enough to account for every situation. Politicians talk about common sense so often that one would think it’s an impossible dream. What it appears to be is impossible for politicians to get right. Perhaps re-learning the art of compromise is required. Perhaps we’re doomed to continue to spiral further into an abyss of devolution marked by angry complaints taking the place of real, tangible action and a “Facebook-rants as political discourse” mindset.
So are bail bonds about to be a thing of the past? Maybe. Perhaps bail and bounty hunters will merely disappear from movies and television. If they disappear from real life, we’re probably all in quite a bit of trouble.