Bounty Hunter

views updated Jun 27 2018


Name for a category of persons who are offered a promised gratuity in return for "hunting" down and capturing or killing a designated target, usually a person or animal.

Bounty hunters can be defined broadly as a category of persons who track down someone or something for money. A bounty is a subsidy that is paid to a category of persons who have performed a public service. Bounty is the proper term to be applied when the services of several persons are sought, and each person who fulfills the offer is entitled to the promised compensation. By contrast, a reward compensates a single service to be performed only once, such as in the capture of a fugitive. Therefore, it will be earned solely by the person who succeeds in this regard.

In practice, bounty hunters usually track down criminal defendants who skip bail and fail to appear for court appointments. Bail skipping is a constant in the American criminal justice system. In 1994, the department of justice reported that 25 percent of felony defendants who had been released on their own recognizance had failed to appear at their trials. Over the past decade, bounty hunters have apprehended about 25,000 fugitives in the United States each year. It has been estimated that they return to custody over 99 percent of the criminal defendants who skip bail.

Bounty Hunter: Legitimate Law Enforcement OR Dangerous Anachronism?

Most citizens do not realize bounty hunters still exist in modern society and that these agents have few limitations placed on them by state laws. Concerns have been raised about the failure of many states to regulate the actions of bounty hunters. In general, bounty hunters are not subject to civil liability for the injuries they may cause in recapturing a person who has been released on bond and fled. Critics contend that the legal privileges granted to bounty hunters in the nineteenth century make no sense today, and that it might be prudent to outlaw bounty hunters. Defenders reply that bounty hunters serve an important role in the criminal justice system and should not be forced to follow regulations that will prevent them from carrying out their responsibilities.

Defenders of bounty hunters note that the common law right of recapture dates back to the constitutional beginnings of the United States. They contend that critics have ignored the underlying legal relationship between the bail bonding company and the principal, the person who is bailed out of jail. When the bonding company bails a defendant out of jail, the defendant waives his rights when he signs the bail bond contract. Then, if a defendant fails to appear in court, the bail bond company may have to forfeit the bond it posted with the court. If this system was not available, many defendants would not be able to post bond themselves, and they would have to remain in jail, which would drive up the cost for local governments to house defendants awaiting trial. In addition, the bail bonding company serves as guaran tor that the defendant will appear in court. This system also removes from public law enforcement the responsibility of tracking down many defendants who fail to appear in court.

Defenders also point out the significant difference between free-lance bounty hunters and agents who work directly for the bail bonding company. These agents, commonly known as bail agents, are involved from just after arrest to the disposition of the case. They are familiar with the workings of the local criminal courts and are trained by the bail bonding company. In contrast, freelance bounty hunters cause most of the problems. Defenders of bounty hunting believe that the occasional public outcries over violent recapture of a bail-skipper are the result of a few irresponsible freelancers.

Finally, defenders rely on the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Taylor v. Taintor, 83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 366, 21 L. Ed. 287 (1872). The Taylor ruling, which remains good law, gives bounty hunters authority to seize and imprison a principal at any time. The decision also allows bounty hunters to pursue a person to another state and arrest the pursued person without legal process. Taylor concludes that the bail bonding company has the "principal on a string," and "may pull the string" whenever it pleases. Defenders conclude, therefore, that the Court has given bounty hunters authority under the U.S. Constitution to practice their trade. This authority has never been revoked.

Finally, defenders point out that defendants who skip bail do not want to be found and do not want to surrender, if discovered. Bounty hunters do not seek to inflict injuries on principals or damage property, but in many situations surprise entry into a dwelling is required to effect the arrest. Physical resistance by the principal leads to most of the violence associated with bounty hunters.

Critics of bounty hunters contend that the time has long passed for bounty hunters. The Taylor decision was rendered a few years after the Civil War, at a time when the United States was relatively unpopulated and the West was just beginning to be settled. Moreover, police departments in urban areas were inadequate, ill-equipped, and ill-trained. Cooperation between jurisdictions was minimal, and there was no organization similar to the federal bureau of investigation (FBI) with the power to cross state borders in pursuit of escaped felons. In addition communication between points separated by great distances was poor. At that time, therefore, it made sense to allow bounty hunters to track down persons who jumped bail. The critics argue that these considerations no longer make sense, when modern law enforcement has the benefit of the FBI, electronic communication, and cooperation between jurisdictions.

Critics believe that allowing bounty hunters to use questionable, and often violent, methods to recapture principals does not promote respect for the administration of justice. In addition, since the 1960s the Supreme Court has recognized that criminal defendants are entitled to numerous constitutional rights. The "due process revolution" runs counter to the methods of bounty hunters, who can commit acts that law enforcement officers are prohibited from committing. Critics contend that it is unwise to allow private law enforcement to run roughshod over the rights of persons, merely because they have entered into a contractual relationship.

While some critics believe bounty hunters should be banned, others believe that states should regulate bail agents. Some states, such as Florida, require bounty hunters to be licensed and to be employed by only one bail bonding company that will supervise and be responsible for the agents. Florida imposes age and residence requirements on licensed bounty hunters, who must also demonstrate they are of high moral character. Some states also require bounty hunters to complete a certification course in criminal justice within a few years of obtaining their license. Some jurisdictions mandate that bounty hunters take continuing education courses in their field every year. Many of these reforms have been proposed by the National Institute of Bail Enforcement, which seeks to professionalize its membership and enhance its public reputation.

Critics also believe it essential that bounty hunters be held liable for injuries to persons and property. State laws must, they argue, be amended to impose civil liability. Such legislation would deter bounty hunters from taking dangerous actions that may injure innocent people.

Courts have granted bounty hunters extensive powers for the purposes of returning fugitives to justice. These include the powers to pursue a fugitive into another state, to arrest him or her at any time, and to break into a fugitive's house in order to capture him or her. The powers of a bounty hunter are usually received vicariously, through powers that already are invested in a bail bondsman.

Bounty hunters have existed since medieval times—the notion of bail predates written english law. The foundation for bounty-hunter rights in the United States was laid down in the 1872 case of Taylor v. Taintor, 83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 366, 21 L.Ed. 287 (1872). "Where one charged with crime is released upon bail, he is regarded as being delivered to custody of his sureties. Their dominion is a continuance of the original imprisonment," wrote the U.S. Supreme Court, in a decision that has never been overruled.

There has been increasing controversy in the United States over bounty hunters, with concern voiced over the lack of control that a state has over their behavior. In response, some states have taken to curbing the bounty hunter's activities. For, example, in 1998, Arizona passed a bill restricting bounty hunters from entering a residence without the consent of an occupant, as well as prohibiting bounty hunters from misrepresenting themselves as law enforcement agents or from working as a bounty hunter if convicted of certain crimes.

further readings

Drimmer, Jonathan. 1996. "When Man Hunts Man: The Rights and Duties of Bounty Hunters in the American Criminal Justice System." Houston Law Review 33 (fall).

Patrick, Andrew DeForest. 1999. "Running from the Law: Should Bounty Hunters Be Considered State Actors and Thus Subject to Constitutional Restraints?" Vanderbilt Law Review 52 (January).

U.S. House of Representatives. 2000. Bounty Hunter Responsibility Act of 1999: Hearing Before the Subcommittee on the Constitution of the Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives. One Hundred Sixth Congress, 2d session, on H.R. 2964, March 30. Washington, D.C.: U.S. G.P.O.

bounty hunter

views updated May 21 2018

boun·ty hunt·er • n. one who pursues a criminal or seeks an achievement for the sake of the reward.