Bounty Hunters – Reality vs. Reality Shows

Most of us think of bounty hunters as characters from “old west” films or TV show “reality stars.” The truth is that these “bail enforcement” or “fugitive recovery” agents are, in fact, an integral part of the modern day bail industry.  Bail bond agencies rely on these folks to find and apprehend those who have fled from their responsibilities to appear, per the surety bonds that have been posted on their behalf.

The Profession

A bounty hunter can be described as a person who tracks down someone, or something, for money.  The bounty is the reward paid to them for performing this public service. Even today, bounty hunters still track down people who skip bail or fail to appear for court dates. Also known as bail skipping, failure to appear to a court date is a criminal offense, and in the U.S. it is a common occurrence. It is reported that 25% of all felony defendants fail to show up at their trial, so the bounty hunters have plenty to keep them busy. In fact, it is estimated that bounty hunters are responsible for returning 99% of criminal defendants who do skip bail in the United States.

Bounty Hunting Laws – Pros and Cons

Bounty hunters have very few limitations they have to adhere to in terms of state laws, and there has been debate about the lack of regulations that govern them. In most cases, they are not subject to any civil liability if they cause injury to a fugitive while capturing them.

Many critics state that the legal privileges extended to the bounty hunters nowadays are unwarranted, and some even go as far as saying that bounty hunting should be outlawed altogether. Critics have also stated that bounty hunters often use questionable and even violent methods to capture bail skippers, and that this goes against the administration of justice defined in the constitution.

On the other hand, defenders of bounty hunters feel that they serve a crucial role in the criminal justice system, and they should not be forced to follow regulations that will impede them from carrying out their duties.  Criminal defendants do have rights that should be protected, but most physical altercations come about because of their reluctance to surrender, when found.

Screen Adaptation vs. Reality

The careers of bounty hunters have been adapted into television series and movies that have been box office hits. Among the most notable films about bounty hunting was released in 2010 and directed by Andy Tennant. “The Bounty Hunter,” played by Gerard Butler, learns that his next mission is to capture his ex-wife, played by Jennifer Aniston. This interesting predicament leads them into an exciting, albeit romantic adventure.  And of course everyone is familiar with the TV legend, “Dog” Chapman, and his antics and extreme measures played out on screen.  When he chased a fugitive into Mexico, Dog found out his “character” wasn’t immune when he was arrested.  Though he was then released on his own recognizance, he chose to leave the country (into the U.S.) and was subsequently extradited to stand trial – clearly a “reality check.”

The truth is that bounty hunters do face a lot of dangerous situations that cannot be cut and retaken in the next shoot. They also have to rely on sharp instincts, investigative prowess and tact in facing every situation – since there is no script to read from. In some cases they find themselves in life-threatening situations, far from the dramatic made-for-movie scenes on the big screen. Bounty hunters are a necessary evil in society and, regardless of the points their critics make, they do render a valuable service.

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