Difference: Bounty Hunter and a Bail Bondsman

Though these two agents sometimes work together, there are big differences between them. Bail bondsmen and bounty hunters (aka fugitive recovery or bail enforcement agents) are at times confused with one another, but they each move in their own unique circles and are regulated in completely different ways.

The 1873 Supreme Court trial of Taylor v. Taintor is cited as the origin of the law that a person into whose custody a defendant is remanded as part of the bail process has “sweeping rights” to that person. When a suspect “jumps bail,” this is the time when these two professions will interact, ultimately to bring the defendant back in front of the court and assure the bail is voided instead of forfeited.

What is a Bounty Hunter?

Specializing in capturing fugitives, these recovery agents are paid a monetary reward (bounty) for their services of locating, arresting and detaining. They are in most cases employed by the bondsman, are usually paid around 10% of the bail premium and are not responsible for the fugitive’s bail in any way. Bounty Hunters claim to catch about 90% of defendants who fail to appear. {Rachel Clarke (June 19, 2003). “Above the law: US bounty hunters“. BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/3003886.stm.}

Depending on varying state laws, bounty hunters can enter a fugitive’s private property without a warrant to arrest them (though they cannot pursue a defendant into another’s home without that owner’s permission or a warrant). They are generally asked to train and test with firearms, handcuffs, tasers, and other powerful weapons and protective vests. Some states do not require formal training or even a license, only the bondsman’s sanction to operate – however many states have legal requirements that leave an out-of-state bounty hunter powerless in pursuing a fugitive across their borders.

Texas requires a bounty hunter to be a peace or security officer or private investigator; Louisiana requires special clothing to identify themselves as such; Kentucky prohibits any form of bounty hunting, and the state doesn’t have a system of bail bondsmen, so only a peace officer can make an arrest – the variances are endless. Crossing into another country can cause a bounty hunter to be arrested for kidnapping; one example was when TV star “Dog” Chapman was arrested after going into Mexico to capture Andrew Luster, the infamous millionaire rapist and fugitive. Dog was released and he then returned to the U.S., only to be declared a fugitive himself and subsequently arrested for extradition back to Mexico.

What is different about a Bail Bondsman?

A bail bond company is licensed by each state’s Department of Insurance – to write contracts, post surety bail bonds to release defendants from jail, and handle various forms involved in allowing a defendant freedom until their assigned court date. The bail agent guarantees to indemnify the surety (insurance company) in case of forfeiture of the bail (for failure of the defendant to appear). Though a bail agent might go to a jail with papers to sign, they are typically not armed nor do they go out searching for a bail jumper to arrest.

Familiar with the local workings of the criminal court system and its regulations, the bond company can be instrumental in securing a more rapid release of an incarcerated suspect. Because the courts save money when working through professional bondsmen, it is typical to find lower fines and before refunding the balance; they also might deduct payment for public defender fees as well.

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