Although illegal in most of the world, bounty hunting is still a practice that occurs in the United States. Almost anyone can be a bounty hunter. It is a dangerous and difficult job, but the rewards are usually great. Before becoming a bounty hunter, however, take a moment to look at the laws surrounding this practice.
The simply definition of a bounty hunter is someone who tracks down and captures fugitives in exchange for a fee (the “bounty”). Bounty hunters sometimes are called bail agents, bail officers, or fugitive recovery officers. They are not affiliated with the government or police, but are rather private citizens looking to make money by tracking down criminals.
Bounty hunters are most commonly employed by bail bondsman. A bail bondsman is the person who puts up collateral during a court case so that the accused doesn’t have to remain in jail while awaiting trial. If the accused then flees instead of showing up in court, the bail bondsman has to pay the complete amount of the bail, and the money will go to tracking down the fugitive once again. The more high-profile the case, the more horrible the crime, and the more the criminal is likely to flee, the higher the bail will be set. Although on small matters bail may only be a few hundred dollars, in large cases, the bail may be hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Therefore, it is in the bondsman’s best interest to find the fugitive before the bail is due. A bounty hunter does just that, usually for a percentage of the total bail money. They sign a contract in order to attempt to find the fugitive. However, it is important to note that a bounty hunter’s services are never guaranteed. Some people simply cannot be found, especially if they’ve managed, somehow, to leave the country. If the fugitive cannot be found, it is still the bail bondsman’s responsibility to pay the full bail amount.
The laws surrounding bounty hunting vary from state to state. In many cases, a bounty hunter doesn’t need any formal training or licensing. They simply need a sanction from a bail bondsman. In other states, bounty hunters must undergo training or background checks. Some states even require the bounty hunter to be licensed as a peace officer, security officer, or private investigator. A few states have outlawed bounty hunter altogether, unless the fugitive has fled charges in another state. In short, before becoming a bounty hunter, learn the hunting laws in your state and in the surrounding states.
Bounty hunting is both physically and legally dangerous. There are no protections for injuries caused by bounty hunters, and mistaking someone for your mark could put you in tons of trouble. In addition, following a fugitive to Canada or Mexico and apprehending him or her there could lead to charges of kidnapping, as these countries do not legalize bounty hunting. While there can be big payoffs, there are also big risks. Make sure you’re ready for these responsibilities before agreeing to track down a fugitive.