Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Joshua Armstrong

Bounty Hunting Today

Many people think of bounty hunting as a relic from the past, something that was practiced in the Wild West in the nineteenth century and has long since been banished from civilized society. In fact, bounty hunting goes on today, is perfectly legal, and is an essential part of the American system of justice. In 1873 the Supreme Court defined the rights of bounty hunters as agents of bail bondsmen in the case of Taylor v. Taintor:

"When the bail is given, the principal is regarded as delivered to the custody of his sureties. Their domain is a continuance of the original imprisonment. Whenever they choose to do so, they may seize him and deliver him up to his discharge; and if it cannot be done at once, they may imprison him until it can be done. They may exercise their rights in person or by agent [italics added]. They may pursue him into another state; may arrest him on the Sabbath; and if necessary, may break and enter his house for that purpose. The seizure is not made by virtue of due process. None is needed. It is likened to the arrest by the Sheriff of an escaped prisoner."

Bounty huntersor bail enforcement agents as they're sometimes calledwork primarily for bail bondsmen. When a person is charged with a crime and bail is set, typically that person will go to a bail bondsman to secure bail money. If the person can pay a nonrefundable fee equal to 10% of the total bail amount and show that he has collateral worth the total bail amount, the bondsman will then secure a bond from an insurance company, guaranteeing that the full bail amount will be paid to the court if the individual fails to make his or her court dates. If the accused "skips," the insurance company is required to pay the court. The bondsman's own money is not at risk, however if that bondsman wants to work with that insurance company again, it's in his best interests to make a good faith effort to find his client in a timely manner. In many cases, especially the more difficult ones, the bondsman will enlist the services of a bounty hunter.

To recover a bail "jumper," a bounty hunter will usually charge 10% of the total bail amount plus expenses. If the bounty hunter must travel out of state to make the capture, his fee is typically a flat 20%. But no matter where the bounty hunter must go to find the jumper, he does not need a warrant for the person's arrest. All he needs is a copy of the "bail piece," (the relevant paperwork regarding the person's status as a fugitive) and in most states, a private detective's license. A certified copy of the bond is also required in some states.

The bounty hunter stereotype is a heavily armed, soldier of fortune wannabe. His vehicle is overly equipped with police lights and sirens, and a vicious attack dog in the passenger seat usually completes the picture. Only a fraction of the people who call themselves bounty hunters are actually trained and licensed to do the job.

The profession took a heavy hit in 1997 when a gang of five men who called themselves bounty hunters entered a home in Phoenix, Arizona, and initiated a gunfight with a young man who happened to be in bed with his girlfriend. The young man and his girlfriend were killed in the incident, and two of the "bounty hunters" were wounded. When the police arrived, the bounty hunters claimed that they were legitimately searching for a fugitive, but a subsequent investigation revealed that these men were not bail-enforcement agents at all but just common burglars trying to talk their way out of a murder rap. Unfortunately the initial reports that appeared in the media jumped to conclusions and vilified bounty hunters in general. But for some in the profession, this blanket condemnation is not undeserved because few are trained as thoroughly as the Seekers. And virtually none undergo the rigorous intellectual and spiritual training that Joshua Armstrong demands of the Seekers.

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