For many people, the term “bounty hunter” evokes images from Wild West movies where deputized citizens were given legal authority to bring back wanted individuals “dead or alive” in return for a “handsome reward”. Worse yet, is the image portrayed by the likes of “Dog” the Bounty Hunter. This quasi fictional character which portends to be reality TV, gives the industry a bad name. If all Bounty Hunters were that heavy-handed we’d all be sued for civil rights violations! The scene and casting for this high-stakes drama has certainly changed but bounty hunting is in fact still very much a part of the American system of justice today. In 1873 the US Supreme Court defined the rights of bounty hunters as agents of bail bondsmen in the case of Taylor v. Taintor. Hence the real name for bounty hunters is “bail fugitive recovery agents”.
The basis of bounty hunting is rooted in the bail bond process used in the United States. The purpose of bail is to allow for the legal right of “innocent until proven guilty” guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution without incarceration of an individual prior to determination of guilt or innocence. On the other side of the coin, the courts whose job it is to enforce and administer the law need some guarantee that the accused will be present in court to face charges and provide a defense.
Hence the bail schedule is set to reflect that balance between the risk of harm to society due to the nature of the crime and the individual’s legal rights. The bail process allows someone who has been arrested to remain free by paying a fee to the courts. If that person violates the terms of his bail, a bail agent will retrieve him and bring him back to police custody, hence the need for bounty hunting. A bail bondsman can do their own bounty hunting or contract with an individual or company that is licensed to provide bounty hunting services.
Some states require that bounty hunters be licensed, while other states only require that bounty hunters register with them. Some states such as Kentucky and Oregon prohibit bounty hunters entirely from making bail arrests.
In September 1999, California enacted law A 243 regulating bounty hunters, termed “bail fugitive recovery persons” in the statute. This law added section 1299 to the California Penal Code. The bail fugitive recovery person is defined as one who has written authorization by a bail agent or surety contracted to investigate, monitor, locate, and arrest a bail fugitive for surrender to appropriate authorities, or any person employed to assist in the arrest of such a fugitive.
CPC 1299 required special licensing and training to become a bounty hunter. California bounty hunters needed a certification from the California Department of Insurance to operate. Certification was granted only to those who could demonstrate they know the state laws and can pass a background check.
Bail fugitive recovery agents must be 18 years old, have no felony convictions, complete a specified training courses, and notify local law enforcement of their intent to apprehend a bail fugitive no more than six hours before doing so. California bounty-hunting training courses can be done on-line or at select, approved schools that focus on criminal justice. You must be 18 or older to apply. The first step is to take a 12-hour course that covers bail education licensing requirements. After this, you are required to apply for your bounty-hunting license and need to score 70 percent or higher on the test.
Unfortunately, CPC 1299 had a sunset clause and the California State Legislature allowed it to lapse. California no longer has control over the bounty hunters and the bail industry is in an uproar over this. The legitimate bail agencies want to see restrictions and rules governing bounty hunters. The industry in pleading with the state legislature to re-enact CPC 1299; for the protection of public safety and common sense.
Robert Miller – About the Author:
Orange County Bail Bonds, located across the street from the Orange County jail facility, is a family owned and operated Orange County bail bond service and has been serving the bail bonds needs of Californians and across the United States since 1963.
What is a bounty hunter?
A bounty hunter is a person that works with a bail bondsman to apprehend a subject that has failed to appear to a court date after having posted bail for a pending trial. When an individual posts bail they are not paying their way out of a conviction. Instead they are paying for their release from holding pending their trial. If the defendant is found to be guilty by the court they must still serve the time mandated by the judge from the trial. They are however awarded the privilege of freedom during the trial.
Because of the flight risk involved an individual must be responsible for the defendant’s actions when they post bail for a pending trial. The bondsman who signed the bond for the defendant’s release is the one who is ultimately responsible to ensure the individual shows up to their court appearances on the designated dates. In the event that an individual who is out on bail does not appear in court they are issued a failure to appear (FTA) warrant at which time they are considered a fugitive.
When this occurs the bondsman responsible for the fugitive contracts a bounty hunter or in many cases acts as the bounty hunter themselves to apprehend the fugitive. A bounty hunter’s proper business title is Fugitive Recovery Agent and they are required to hold the proper certifications for this occupation in order to operate in their local or federal jurisdiction. In many cases a bondsman will act as their own bounty hunter but there are some instances as well where these positions are held by different individuals in a company.