What is a Bounty Hunter?

presented to Riskmonitor by

Morgan Wright, researcher and contributor for howtobecomeabountyhunter.com

Bounty hunting, or the practice of apprehending fugitives for a monetary reward, is often something that conjures up images of men or women who operates outside of the law and bring criminals to justice through legally ambiguous means. In reality however, bounty hunting, also known as skip tracing, is a necessary part of the modern criminal justice system in the United States. This article will serve as a basic explanation of how bounty hunters operate, their purpose in society and their basic day-to-day operations in bringing those who fail to appear in court to justice through legal means.

As a profession bounty hunting is something that is often romanticized by movies and other media. However, the job is actually a fairly technical and adheres to the same stringent due process laws that cops and courts are subject to. Bounty hunting is also a profession that depends on a thorough knowledge of laws and legal precedent, something that often requires a college-level education that many overlook.

A bounty hunter, who often works on a contract, acts as a bail enforcer and fugitive tracker by searching for and apprehending persons accused of bailable crimes that do not show up for trial. This is a necessary profession considering as many as 25% of felony defendants fail to show up in court. Bounty hunters work together with bail bondsmen as agents to track these fugitives in order to guarantee that the accused person appears at trial or are imprisoned.

Bounty hunters and bail bondsmen also play an important role in allowing for the writ of Habeas Corpus to be upheld, a statute which states that a person accused of certain crimes has the right to freedom until proven guilty. Bail bondsmen provide a service to persons facing trial by paying their bail by way of contract as a promise to appear at trial. Bounty hunters help to ensure that bail bondsmen are repaid by capturing bail jumpers who are in breach of this contract.

Bail bondsmen and bounty hunters work together to detain over 90% of bail jumpers in the United States. The bail bondsman conducts research with the bounty hunter to determine the bail jumper’s location. Then the bounty hunter attempts to apprehend the fugitive. The bail bondsman typically pays the bounty hunter between 10 and 20% of the bail for each fugitive captured. There are standardized procedures that bounty hunters and bail bondsmen follow in order to ensure a successful arrest. These procedures often mirror those used in private detective agencies, such as skip tracing.

A skip tracer performs research on an individual fugitives and third parties in order to ascertain the fugitive’s whereabouts. Skip tracers obtain and verify information by using numerous strategies. They may gain access to public and private records, search electronic databases, interview family members or neighbors of a fugitive and conduct surveillance. Both the bounty hunter and the bail bondsman they are contracted under usually operate as skip tracers when attempting to obtain information or generate leads.

Each state has its own regulations that determine what bounty hunters can and cannot do. While some states allow bounty hunters to cross state lines in their efforts to apprehend a bail jumper, others do not. Certain states do not permit bounty hunters to break into a fugitive’s private home, and some even prohibit bounty hunters from performing an arrest, requiring a court order and the intervention of law enforcement to secure the fugitive. The Fugitive Recovery Network provides a directory of laws that affect bounty hunters state by state.

Bounty hunting has become popularized as a profession since its debut on television shows such as Dog the Bounty Hunter. Although touted to be as exciting as it appears on television, a bounty hunter is often required to work a grueling 80 – 100 hours per week and is paid between $50,000 – $80,000 per year.

Because specific skills are needed to work in this field, bounty hunters often come from previous careers in law enforcement or the military and are trained in surveillance and other investigatory tactics. State law determines the amount of certification and training required to become a bounty hunter.