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Are bounty hunters hired by bail bondsmen crossing their limits?

Many defendants arrested and imprisoned for various crimes get released from jail. This happens when they deposit money in court and sign a bond assuring that they will appear in hearings and will extend all cooperation to judicial authorities in completing their case. The process is called bail and the amount parted with is the bail amount. Bail is intended to secure the cooperation of the defendant, and when defendants find the amount difficult to cobble up they turn to bail bondsmen who arrange to furnish bail bonds to court on their behalf.

When the defendant jumps bail or flees justice, he immediately forfeits the bail amount he personally deposited in court. If a bail bondsman has furnished the bail, the bondsman has to make good the money and he has no recourse to recover the amount but by selling the collateral or by tracing the fugitive. Bounty hunters come in handy as they are often resorted to when the bail jumper’s whereabouts are unknown and he becomes untraceable.

The business of bail bonding

The typical bail bondsman or bail bonding company arranges to furnish (on behalf of the defendant) a bail bond for the full amount set by the judge, and charges a fee sometimes equivalent to 10% of the bail amount which is nonrefundable. The bond itself becomes a living contract between the bondsman that furnishes it and the government acting through the judiciary. It immediately secures the freedom of the jailed defendant.

The bondsman is in effect guaranteeing through the bond that the defendant will appear in future hearings.  His guarantee is backed by the bond amount. The only problem that can cast a shadow on the proceedings is when the defendant fails to show up in the hearing. If that happens, the bondsman forfeits the full bond amount to court.

The bail bondsman can be said to be investing in the defendant, and to ensure his investment doesn’t turn its back on him; the bondsman secures collateral that could come in the form of jewelry, stocks or landed property.

If for example the judge has approved bail of $10,000, and the defendant doesn’t have the resources to raise that kind of money, the bondsman will furnish a bond to court for $10,000 retaining his personal cash fee of $1,000. So by paying only $1,000 to the bail bondsman the court gets its bond and the defendant walks free. If the defendant jumps bail the bondsman pays the full bond amount $10,000 to the court within the timeframe decided by courts.

How the bondsman could avoid forfeiting the bail bond money

No prizes for guessing that a bail bondsman stands to lose a lot of money if the defendant, whose court appearance he has guaranteed, jumps bail or flees justice. The court will allow some time to the bondsman to make good the forfeited money. Within this timespan the bondsman will make every effort to locate the defendant and surrender him back to the jurisdiction of the court to undergo trial. Recognizing this risk, most states have authorized bail bondsmen to conduct search and capture (almost amounting to arrest) of bail jumping fugitives running from justice.

Enter the hunter leveraging bounty as his motivating factor

The bounty hunter acts as an agent of the bail bondsman assigned the task of capturing the runaway defendant and returning him to the folds of justice, and he gets paid (a portion of the bail amount) only if he delivers his man. For many hunters this is an attractive incentive to nab their man.

Many of the states don’t have strong legislation in place to regulate bounty hunters and the same holds true for the federal government, but even then the following prerequisites may be considered essential for a bounty hunting job:

  • Attained the age of eighteen.
  • No past convictions for felony.
  • Can provide reliable character certifications.
  • Is registered with the local law enforcement agency.

The problems plaguing bounty hunting

Perhaps the biggest bane of bounty hunting is the use of excessive force and reckless disregard for innocent bystanders and/ or damage to public property that may result when a bounty hunter closes in on his prey. Sometimes they may also end up harming fugitives or injuring innocent people.

Defendants/ lay public seeking legal action and monetary compensation for excesses of bounty hunters seem to be garnering mixed results. In some cases victims have successfully pursued legal action where instances of false imprisonment or injuries suffered in violent acts have come to light. Suing the government for compensation hasn’t yielded the same results probably because so little has been accomplished by way of concrete legislation curbing the activities of hunters. Moreover the Green v. Abony Bail Bond case (2004) ruled that bounty hunters do not represent the government and government bodies cannot be held responsible for their actions.

In a well-publicized case a Texas bounty hunter authorized to locate a bail jumper mistakenly identified the wrong person, a pregnant woman who suffered a miscarriage owing to the thrashing she received at the hand of the bounty hunter. Even though the victim sued the bondsman, the court declined to grant relief stating that the bounty hunter was not operating within the laws enacted by the government, so his actions could not be judged under existing laws.

If a person known to you has missed a court appearance or is out on bail without complying with court formalities he could land himself in serious trouble.  Contacting a reliable and experienced criminal defense lawyer is a must to ensure that the defendant does not fall foul of justice and gets a proper hearing in court.


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