The Relationship Between Bounty Hunting and Law Enforcement

To understand the relationship between bounty hunting and law enforcement, you have to know the basics of the American criminal justice system. Bounty hunters play a specific, yet critical, role in this system.
When someone is arrested for a crime, law enforcement presents the facts of the case to the district attorney’s, or prosecutor’s, office. If the prosecutor believes there is enough evidence, the arrested person is charged with a crime. Once the person is charged, a hearing is held without delay so that a judge or magistrate can determine if the person needs to be held in custody until their next court date.

If the judge grants bail, the person can be released until their court date. There are typically 3 options once bail has been set. One is for the arrested person to pay the bail, which is returned at the next court date. The next option is to not pay the bail and stay in jail until the court date. The third option is to hire a bail bond company.

Most bail bondsman charge the arrested person 10 percent of the bail amount. In return, the bail bond company pays the entire bail amount. The company then keeps the 10 percent the arrested person puts down as its fee. The court returns the entire bail amount to the bondsman when the arrested person returns to court.

In some cases, the arrested person flees once they are out on bail. This is where the fugitive tracker comes in. The bail bond company is out the entire amount of the bail money if the fugitive is not returned to face their court date, so it employs bounty hunters to find the person who skipped out on bail and return the fugitive to their court hearing.

The most important thing for fugitive trackers to remember is that they are not law enforcement officers and do not have the same privileges. Most bail enforcement agents look to the U.S. Supreme Court case Taylor vs. Taintor as the law that allows fugitive trackers to apprehend bail jumpers. However, state laws will differ on the particulars of how a bounty hunter can apprehend and take custody of a fugitive.

It is very important for bounty hunters to know exactly what they can or cannot do during an arrest, or they risk being arrested themselves. Some states require bounty hunters be trained in arrest tactics so that they will not break the law when taking custody of a fugitive.

Law enforcement agencies in most areas cannot spend the time and resources that a bail enforcement agent can to find a bail jumper. Bounty hunters do all the detective work including interviewing friends, family and associates, checking out the bail jumper’s old haunts and conducting surveillance at the bail jumper’s home.

According to researchers, a quarter of all people who post bail become fugitives. Bail bondsmen prepare for this eventuality by asking for extensive information about family, friends, vehicles, or anything that could help them find a fugitive. That puts the bounty hunter a step ahead of law enforcement, who will have to gather that information.