Bounty hunter

Person who catches fugitives for a monetary reward

Bounty hunter
Activity sectors
United States
Fields of
(quasi-law enforcement)
Related jobs
Bail bondsman, thief-taker, privateer, vigilante, marshal, mercenary, citizen's arrest, neighborhood watch

A bounty hunter is a private agent working for a bail bondsman who captures fugitives or criminals for a commission or bounty. The occupation, officially known as a bail enforcement agent or fugitive recovery agent, has traditionally operated outside the legal constraints that govern police officers and other agents of the state. This is because a bail agreement between a defendant and a bail bondsman is essentially a civil contract that is incumbent upon the bondsman to enforce. Since they are not police officers, bounty hunters are exposed to legal liabilities from which agents of the state are protected as these immunities enable police to perform their functions effectively without fear of lawsuits. Everyday citizens approached by a bounty hunter are neither required to answer their questions nor allowed to be detained. Bounty hunters are typically independent contractors paid a commission of the total bail amount that is owed by the fugitive; they provide their own professional liability insurance and only get paid if they are able to find the "skip" and bring them in.

Bounty hunting is a vestige of common law which was created during the Middle Ages. In the United States, bounty hunters primarily draw their legal imprimatur from an 1872 Supreme Court decision, Taylor v. Taintor. The practice historically existed in many parts of the world; however, as of the 21st century, it is found almost exclusively in the United States as the practice is illegal under the laws of most other countries. State laws vary widely as to the legality of the practice; Illinois, Kentucky, Oregon, and Wisconsin have outlawed commercial bail bonds, while Wyoming offers few (if any) regulations governing the practice.[1]

An Afro-Brazilian bounty hunter looking for escaped slaves in an 1823 portrait by Johann Moritz Rugendas.

United States


Before the Civil War

The Old West

In 1873, the Supreme Court noted that bounty hunters were a part of the U.S. law enforcement system with a decision in Taylor v. Taintor:[2]

When the bail is given, the principal is regarded as delivered to the custody of his sureties. Their domain is a continuance of the original imprisonment. Whenever they choose to do so, they may seize him and deliver him up to his discharge; and if it cannot be done at once, they may imprison him until it can be done. They may exercise their rights in person or by agent. They may pursue him into another state; may arrest him on the Sabbath; and if necessary, may break and enter his house for that purpose. The seizure is not made by virtue of due process. None is needed. It is likened to the arrest by the sheriff of an escaped prisoner.

Modern times

In modern times, bounty hunters carry out arrests mostly of those who have skipped bail or whose bail has been revoked; but are often referred to as and typically prefer to be identified by more formal titles such as "bail enforcement agents" or "fugitive recovery agents".[3][4]

When undertaking arrest warrants, agents may wear bullet-resistant vests, badges, and other clothing bearing the inscription "bail enforcement agent" or similar titles.[5] Many agents arm themselves with firearms, or sometimes with less lethal weapons, such as tasers,[5] batons, tear gas (CS gas, pepper spray),[5] or pepper spray projectiles.

In the United States, the National Association of Fugitive Recovery Agents is the professional association representing this industry.[6]

Domestic practice

Bounty hunters in the United States are employed by bail bondsmen. The bounty hunter is usually paid about 10% of the total bail amount, but this commission can vary on an individual, case-by-case basis, usually depending upon the difficulty level of the assignment and the approach used to exonerate the bail bond. If the fugitive eludes bail, the bondsman, not the bounty hunter, is responsible for 100% of the total bail amount. This is a way of ensuring clients arrive at trial. As of 2003, bounty hunters claimed to catch 31,500 bail jumpers per year, about 90% of people who jump bail.[7]

Bounty hunters have varying levels of authority in their duties with regard to their targets, depending on which states they operate in. Barring restrictions applicable state by state, a bounty hunter may enter the fugitive's legal residence without any warrant, besides the original bail bonds contract signed by the fugitive, to execute a re-arrest.

In some states, bounty hunters do not undergo any formal training,[8] and are generally unlicensed, only requiring sanction from a bail bondsman to operate. In other states, however, they are held to varying standards of training and license. State legal requirements are often imposed on out-of-state bounty hunters, so a fugitive could temporarily escape rearrest by entering a state in which the bail agent has limited or no jurisdiction.[citation needed]

Laws and regulation

In the United States legal system, the 1873 U.S. Supreme Court case Taylor v. Taintor, 16 Wall (83 U.S. 366, 21 L.Ed. 287), is cited as having established that the person into whose custody an accused is remanded as part of the accuser's bail has sweeping rights to that person.[9] Though this may have been accurate at the time the decision was reached, the portion cited was obiter dictum and has no binding precedential value.[10]

As of 2008, four states, Illinois, Kentucky, Oregon, and Wisconsin, prohibited the practice, as they have abolished commercial bail bonds and banned the commercial bail bonds industry within their borders.[11] As of 2012, Nebraska and Maine similarly prohibit surety bail bonds.[12] The states of Texas and California require a license to engage in bounty hunting while other states may have no restrictions.[13]

There have been some states that have rolled out specific laws that govern bounty hunting. For example, Minnesota laws provide that a bounty hunter cannot drive a white, black, maroon, or dark green vehicle, or wear any colors that are reserved for the police in the state (e.g. maroon, which is worn by the Minnesota Highway Patrol).[14]


The State of Connecticut has a detailed licensing process which requires any person who wants to engage in the business as a bail enforcement agent (bounty hunter) to first obtain a professional license from the Commissioner of Public Safety; specifically detailing that "No person shall, as surety on a bond in a criminal proceeding or as an agent of such surety, engage in the business of taking or attempting to take into custody the principal on the bond who has failed to appear in court and for whom a re-arrest warrant or capias has been issued unless such person is licensed as a bail enforcement agent". Connecticut has strict standards which require bail enforcement agents to pass an extensive background check and, while engaging in fugitive recovery operations, wear a uniform, notify the local police barrack, wear a badge, and only carry licensed and approved firearms, including handguns and long guns which are permitted. Recently, the Connecticut State Police converted its bail enforcement agent licensing unit to reflect the role bail enforcement agents play in the Connecticut criminal justice system; placing them in the newly defined Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection.[15]

Several schools in Connecticut have obtained certification by the Connecticut State Police to pre-license bail enforcement agents in a minimum of 20 hours of criminal justice training and a minimum of eight hours of firearms training. Some of the more advanced schools offer specialized training in the area of tactical firearms to prepare BEAs for conducting dangerous recovery operations.[16]


In Florida, only a "limited surety agent" licensed by the Florida Department of Financial Services - Bureau of Agent and Agency Licensing, may legally apprehend bail fugitives in addition to law enforcement's ability to arrest a fugitive pursuant to a bench warrant.[17] According to the Chapter 648 of Florida Statute regarding Bail Bond Agents, "A person may not represent himself or herself to be a bail enforcement agent, bounty hunter, or other similar title in this state."[18]


Louisiana requires bounty hunters to wear clothing identifying them as such.[19]


A Nevada bounty hunter is referred to as a bail enforcement agent or bail enforcement solicitor. In order to meet state requirements, the bail agent must complete a minimum 80 hours of training (or a POST certification), and that they pass the required examinations and obtain a bail enforcement agent license by the Nevada Division of Insurance within nine months of employment.[20][21] To acquire such license, one must be at least 21 years old, a United States citizen, have a high school diploma or equivalent, and undergo the required training and pass a state examination.[22][citation needed]


A Texas bounty hunter is required to be a peace officer, Level III (armed) security officer, or a private investigator.[23][24][better source needed]

International action by U.S. bounty hunters

International extradition exists only by authority of an international treaty with the nation where the fugitive is located. Extradition treaties limit extradition to certain offenses and not all fugitives can be extradited. Generally, the crime being charged against the fugitive must be recognized as a crime in the jurisdiction from which extradition is being sought.

Bail fugitive recovery agents may run into serious legal problems if they try to apprehend fugitives outside the United States, where they have no legal authority to arrest, and taking a person into custody could be charged as kidnapping or some other serious crime. While the United States government and most states recognize a bail agent or fugitive recovery agent's powers of arrest, the governments in other countries, including sovereign Native American territories within the United States, do not recognize a bail agent's or fugitive recovery agent's powers of arrest.

Bounty hunter Duane "Dog" Chapman, star of the TV series Dog the Bounty Hunter, was arrested in Mexico after he apprehended the multi-millionaire rapist and fugitive Andrew Luster. Chapman was subsequently released,[7] but was later declared a fugitive by a Mexican prosecutor and was subsequently arrested in the United States to be extradited back to Mexico. All charges were later dropped due to the crime passing the statute of limitations date. Chapman has maintained that under Mexico's citizen arrest law, he and his crew acted under proper policy.[citation needed]

Legal action against bounty hunters

Daniel Kear of Fairfax, Virginia, pursued and abducted Sidney Jaffe at a residence in Canada and returned him to Florida to face trial. Kear was extradited to Canada in 1983, and convicted of kidnapping.[25][26]

Several bounty hunters have been arrested for killing a fugitive or apprehending the wrong individuals.[27]

Unlike police officers, they have no legal protections against injuries to non-fugitives and few legal protections against injuries to their targets.[citation needed]

In a Texas case, bounty hunters Richard James and his partner DG Pearson were arrested in 2001 for felony charges during an arrest. The charges were levied by the fugitive and his family, but were later dismissed against the hunters after the fugitive's wife shot a deputy sheriff in another arrest attempt of the fugitive by the county sheriff's department. The hunters sued the fugitive and family, winning the civil suit for malicious prosecution with a judgment amount of $1.5 million.[citation needed]

Notable bounty hunters

See also

  • iconLaw portal
  • History portal


  1. ^ Adam Liptak (January 29, 2008). "Illegal Globally, Bail for Profit Remains in U.S." The New York Times.
  2. ^ Dempsey, John (March 23, 2010). Introduction to Private Security. Cengage Learning. p. 367.
  3. ^ "Bail Enforcement Agent". Retrieved July 8, 2015.
  4. ^ "NYS Division of Licensing Services". Archived from the original on July 9, 2015. Retrieved July 8, 2015.
  5. ^ a b c Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "Tools Of The Trade". Secrets of a Modern Day Bounty Hunter. YouTube. May 8, 2009. Retrieved December 20, 2016.
  6. ^ "Media Inquiries". September 30, 2016. Archived from the original on August 23, 2017. Retrieved September 30, 2016.
  7. ^ a b Clarke, Rachel (June 19, 2003). "Above the law: US bounty hunters". BBC News. Retrieved September 22, 2007.
  8. ^ "Bounty Hunter Blitz". Archived from the original on April 7, 2016. Retrieved February 27, 2011.
  9. ^ Appleman, Laura I. (June 1, 2012). "Justice in the Shadowlands: Pretrial Detention, Punishment, & the Sixth Amendment". Washington and Lee Law Review. 69: 1308. Retrieved August 15, 2017.
  10. ^ Walker v. Commonwealth, 127 S.W.3d 596, 605 (Ky. 2004).
  11. ^ Adam Liptak Illegal Globally, Bail for Profit Remains in U.S., The New York Times, January 29, 2008
  12. ^ Bail Bonds Information, Bail Bonds Agent Directory by Bail Bonds Network, n.d., Retrieved July 18, 2012.
  13. ^ "Bounty Hunter License For Each State". Archived from the original on July 8, 2017. Retrieved July 22, 2017.
  14. ^ "Minnesota Legislature - Office of the Revisor of Statutes". Archived from the original on September 19, 2018. Retrieved September 18, 2018.
  15. ^ "Special Licensing and Firearms: Bail Enforcement Agents (BEA)". Connecticut Department of Emergency Services & Public Protection. Retrieved January 27, 2011.
  16. ^ "Tactical Firearms Training". Tactical Recovery Network. Archived from the original on September 1, 2011. Retrieved May 17, 2012.
  17. ^ "Temporary Resident Limited Surety Agent". Jimmy Patrol, Florida's Chief Financial Officer. Archived from the original on August 21, 2017. Retrieved August 21, 2017.
  18. ^ § 648.30(2), Florida Statutes
  19. ^ Drimmer, Jonathan. "Bounty Hunter laws". Archived from the original on December 7, 2002. Retrieved September 22, 2007.
  20. ^ Bail Agent/Solicitor Individual Instructions Archived April 7, 2016, at the Wayback Machine Nevada Division of Insurance, 2013, retrieved March 24, 2018
  21. ^ How to Become a Bounty Hunter in Nevada, n.d.
  22. ^ "NRS: CHAPTER 697 – BUSINESSES RELATED TO BAIL". Retrieved March 22, 2017.
  23. ^ "Texas – Bail Bond and Bounty Hunter Laws". May 24, 2012. Retrieved March 22, 2017.
  24. ^ "Texas – Bounty Hunters". Retrieved June 27, 2019.
  25. ^ Covey, Russell (July 10, 2003). "The Perils of Bounty hunting". Retrieved September 22, 2007.
  26. ^ "Canadian, kidnapped, to stand trial in Florida, is free on bond". The New York Times. October 12, 1983. Retrieved August 2, 2013.
  27. ^ Farris, Deb. "Bounty Hunters Arrested for Kidnapping". Archived from the original on August 1, 2009. Retrieved July 5, 2009.

External links

  • Inside America's Pro-Profit Bail System - An anti bail system video Vice TV channel (YouTube)

Further reading

  • F. E. Devine. Commercial Bail Bonding: A Comparison of Common Law Alternatives, 232 pages, Praeger (August 30, 1991), ISBN 0275937321