If you, or someone you know, is facing criminal arrest or time in jail, be prepared to be overwhelmed with new legal vocabulary. Two of the terms you might hear are “bail bondsman” and “bounty hunter.” You’ve probably driven by a storefront advertising bail bonds, or heard of the television personality, “Dog the Bounty Hunter.” With a limited understanding beyond storefronts and Hollywood productions, people often conflate the two professions. However, though bondsmen and bounty hunters work together, their job descriptions are quite different. Take a minute to familiarize yourself with each position and the situations where you might encounter them.
What Is a Bail Bondsman?
Let’s start with bail. Bail is the money you pay when you are arrested and put in jail. This money is paid as a security to ensure that you return for your assigned court dates. If you fail to appear in court, you lose the money. A bondsman, or a bail bond agent, is a person or corporation that agrees to cover a person’s bail for them in exchange for a fee or commission. In this capacity, bondsman are required to be licensed by the state and must have a good understanding of the legal system.
Usually, a bail bondsman has a standing agreement with the court that they will cover any bail or court fees for a defendant that the bondsman has contracted with. Bondsman normally charge anywhere from 10-15% of the bail amount as compensation for their services. Because the bondsman has a lot riding on the defendant arriving at court on their assigned day, they will do all they can to ensure the defendant’s appearance. This is where bounty hunters come in.
What Is a Bounty hunter?
In these kinds of situations, a bounty hunter, also called a fugitive recovery agent, is someone hired to find and capture a fugitive and bring them in so that the bondsman doesn’t lose money. So, if a defendant signed a deal with a bondsman to get out of jail and then ran off, trying to evade court orders, the bondsman may hire a bounty hunter to bring that person in.
Regulations regarding bounty hunters vary state to state. In some states, bounty hunters must be trained and licensed. In other states, however, no training or licensure is required and the only requirement is that they be hired by a bondsman. Many states allow bounty hunters to enter the fugitive’s home without a warrant in order to issue a re-arrest. On the other hand, there are also many states where bounty hunting is restricted or banned altogether.
Bounty hunting can be dangerous and agents are usually trained in defense and restraint techniques using various weapons. It is often necessary for them to employ the element of surprise in order to catch the fugitive they are after. Basically, while the bondsmen they work for are hired to help things run smoothly when a defendant needs help getting out of jail, bounty hunters are asked to step in when things go wrong.