19 Apr 2016

Bounty Hunters Today

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Katie Bo Williams, in the Atlantic, looks at the Bounty Hunting industry and finds that it is pretty good at policing itself.

Bounty hunters usually grab national attention only when somebody gets shot, but in many states, they’re an active part of the criminal-justice system. The modern bail-recovery industry, mostly identified with Wild-West-like Hollywood depictions like Dog the Bounty Hunter or the novels by Janet Evanovich, is largely invisible to the public eye. This kind of incident usually drives two separate criticisms: that America’s archaic bail system disproportionately impacts the poor, and that bounty hunters are acting as wildly unregulated quasi-police. Some areas have addressed the first with pretrial services programs that screen and release low-risk defendants. In certain states the second might be partially true—but the industry is far more sophisticated than it appears at first glance. …

There are four major players in the bail-bonding process: the person who has been arrested, the judge who sets his bail, the bail bondsman, and the bail-recovery agent. Bail is a security—usually money but sometimes property—paid to the court in exchange for release of an arrested person, to be returned when the defendant appears at his or her court date. A judge will typically set a higher bail for defendants who are considered a flight risk or a danger to society. A bail bondsman, backed by insurance policies, then signs a civil contract with the defendant to post bail for a 10 to 15 percent fee. Under the terms of these contracts, should a defendant fail to appear at a court date, the bondsman has the right to apprehend his or her client. If the bondsman fails to procure the “skip,” he or she is on the hook for the entirety of the bail to the court.

Although some bondsmen do their own recovery work in-house, many will contract with independent bounty hunters to apprehend skips. Bounty hunters are considered private contractors, but they are authorized to use deadly force when making an arrest. …

The common perception is that bounty hunters are above the law—and in fact, they are not subject to many of the constitutional amendments that govern law enforcement. Bounty hunters are not bound by the constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizures under the Fourth Amendment, the privilege against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment, or the right to counsel under the Sixth Amendment. For the most part, the industry draws its legal standing from Taylor v. Taintor, a 1872 Supreme Court ruling that allows bounty hunters to, among other things, “pursue [a fugitive] into another State; arrest him on the Sabbath; and, if necessary, break and enter his house for that purpose.”

That sounds archaic, but skips actually agree to these terms. The fugitive is a client of a bail bondsman—he or she has signed a civil contract with the bondsman that effectively gives him the right to come arrest him should he fail to appear. This contract is what gives bounty hunters the right to come on to a fugitive’s property to affect an arrest; it’s also part of the industry’s incentive not to abuse skips. It’s tough to get return business if your recovery agents have a reputation for roughing folks up.

Read the whole thing.

In the early 1990s, my wife and I had both sold off our former companies, and had tried a few things that didn’t work out. Time had gone by, we were both still out of work, and we were starting to run out of money.

I happened upon an ad looking for a Bail Bond Recovery Agent, and it occurred to me that this was something I could do. I am a pretty good hunter. I do excellent research. And I come from a family loaded with police, and am not at all frightened of criminals.

I bought myself a very compact and highly powerful Taser, and laid in a supply of plastic wrist restraints. I already owned a number of handguns and even had around a somewhat-antique leather sap I sometimes used as a book weight, which I’d inherited from an uncle who had been a Pennsylvania state cop.

When I talked to a few Bail Bondsmen down in Bridgeport, though, I found that the real deal was the guys I’d be hunting and bringing in were basically just local blacks and Puerto Ricans charged with a variety of petty drug offenses. I did plenty of drugs myself back in college, and I figured that I’d be a very evil bastard indeed if I went out and made a buck enforcing victim-less crime laws on people less fortunate than myself. So I dropped that particular scheme.

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