What are the Laws About Bounty Hunters?

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In the United States, bounty hunters are sometimes employed to chase down those who miss their hearings or trials in criminal cases.

Most bounty hunters are employed by bail bondsmen; the people who usually post the bail that got the fugitive out of jail after an arrest. The bounty hunter is usually paid about 10% of the total bail amount, though this varies. The bail bondsman hires the bounty hunter because if the fugitive eludes bail, the bondsman is responsible for 100% of the total bail amount. Using a bounty hunter ensures the fugitive arrives for trial.

In the United States, bounty hunters reportedly catch over 30,000 bail jumpers each year, or about 90% of the fugitives who jump bail. This industry was made famous by several reality shows, like “Dog the Bounty Hunter” and its colorful cast of characters. Of course, the actual bounty hunting industry is usually less flashy.

Skiptracing is the process of searching for people through less direct means. Many bounty hunters are well-practiced in this skill and use it to locate fugitives. Some confuse skiptracers and bounty hunters, but they are actually separate practices. Skiptracers are often employed for tracing non-criminal persons and entities, as well, often for service of process, collections of debts, and so forth. They often do this without ever setting foot outside of an office. Bounty hunters, on the other hand, are usually required to not only track a criminal fugitive, but also apprehend them. Bounty hunters also do not generally work on civil matters.

In the United States, bounty hunters have varying levels of authority in the execution of their duties. Generally, depending on the individual state's laws, a bounty hunter can enter the fugitive's private property without a warrant in order to take the person back into custody. However, in most states the bounty hunter cannot enter the property of anyone other than the fugitive without a warrant or the permission of the owner, even if pursuing a fugitive, without being guilty of trespass.

Some states have a formal training and licensing process for bounty hunters, though most remain largely unregulated. Local laws usually trump out-of-state mandates for bounty hunters, as well, meaning that if a practice is prohibited in the state where the fugitive is hiding, but not in the home state, the bounty hunter may violate the law if he still uses that practice to apprehend the fugitive.

Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia heavily restrict bounty hunting or have banned it altogether. Several of these states have also banned the bail bonds industry. In states where bail bonds activities are allowed, the industry is generally either unregulated or subject only to minimal restrictions, like background checks, licensing, and the wearing of a uniform, badge, or other identifying clothing.

If you believe that someone has violated the laws while pursuing a bounty, you should immediately contact local law enforcement. If a bounty hunter has damaged your property or injured you or someone you know while pursuing a fugitive, you may also have a civil claim and should contact a local attorney. However, you should also be aware that harboring a fugitive is against the law, and if you do know the whereabouts of someone who is actively the subject of a manhunt, you should immediately alert authorities.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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