The History of Bounty Hunting

The history of bounty hunting began in England in the 13th century when a person who was named the custodian of the accused was considered as collateral for a fugitive who failed to appear at trial. Skipping trial or evading bail meant that the custodian was to suffer the punishment for the crime and could even be executed in their place.

In 1679 this changed when the British Parliament passed the Habeas Corpus Act, allowing the accused be released on monetary bail. The U.S. followed these English constitutional laws up until American independence in 1776. In 1789, the American Judiciary Act was passed. This statute outlined the conditions that were to determine bailable crimes in the U.S.

The criminal justice system in the United States lacked proper enforcement for criminals who skipped bail during the late 18th century and the majority of the 19th century. This period in the history of bounty hunting is often referred to as the Wild West era and is known for a vigilante approach to apprehending fugitives.

Bounty hunters during this time were often hired from private detective agencies, 1 of the most famous being the Pinkerton National Detective agency. The Pinkerton Guards hunted outlaws like Jesse James, supplementing America’s police forces and developing fugitive tracing techniques that are still used by bail bondsmen and bounty hunters today.

Not long after the Civil War, in 1873, the authority of the bounty hunter further expanded with the U.S. Supreme Court case, Taylor v. Taintor. This change in legislation established a relationship between bail bondsmen and bounty hunters who now both play important roles in bail enforcement. Taylor v. Taintor states, “When bail is given, the principal is regarded as delivered to the custody of his sureties. Their dominion is a continuance of the original imprisonment.” This clause gave power to the bail bondsman to track and arrest the accused after a bail contract is signed, and to have agents act on the bail bondsman’s behalf.

Bounty hunters act as the primary bail enforcement agents as fugitive trackers on behalf of bail bondsmen to find accused criminals who fail to make bail or show up at their trial. Bail bondsmen pay bounty hunters a percentage of the bail, usually between 10 and 20 %,and sometimes more, for every obtained fugitive.

Taylor v. Taintor also made it possible for bounty hunters to cross state lines to pursue a fugitive for bail, break into the fugitive’s private home, and even arrest the accused without a warrant. These laws vary from state to state today, as do the required certification and training for bounty hunters. The Fugitive Recovery Network provides a directory of state laws that effect bounty hunters.