Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Bail Reform and "Accountability"

This blog is called "Bail Basics" for a reason. Every so often, I have to get back to basics and explain some really foundational thing, like the definition of certain terms and phrases.

Mostly I do it because the bail insurance companies mislead people by using the wrong words, and that's the case here.

I'll be brief. Accountability is a term associated with punishment, not bail.
Being accountable is being responsible for your actions. In criminal justice, that happens after we prove those actions. In bail, we say we want "assurances," as in "reasonable assurance" of either court appearance or public safety. That's because we haven't proven any actions yet. That's what the law says. The law surrounding bail and no bail simply doesn't use the term accountability. 

And when we talk about assurances, we don't mean complete assurances, by the way. We mean "reasonable assurances." That's because bail always involves some risk. We take risks in bail and in the substantive criminal law because we're Americans and we're interested in limited government, liberty, and the moral deterrence of the rule of law. That's what the law says, too. 

So, bail insurance dudes, if you want money bail, please don't say you want it because you want defendants to be "accountable." If you do, it means you don't understand fundamental precepts of American law.