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Bounty Hunters And The Enforcement Of Bail: When Justice Deferred Is Justice Denied

   By: L Scott Harrell

There seems to be a lot of interest in the bounty hunting business these days… but I find that the public really knows very little about us and that the reality of what we do exactly is more speculative than not. As an industry leader, I think that it is important to the health of this industry that you know a little more about who we are, where we derive our authority and most importantly- that 99% of us don't fit the stereotype of a mullet-headed adrenaline junkie, which is only being reinforced through the oxymoron of “reality TV.”

The history of Bounty Hunting, which later evolved into what we refer today as Bail Enforcement, is fascinating to say the least. I would be lying to you if I didn't tell you that I find myself daydreaming at times about the days of Pat Garrett, Bat Masterson, and one of the most famous bounty hunters, Texas Ranger Jack Duncan. But I am also practical enough to know that that is a bygone era and very little applies to our profession today. So I intend to spend very little time recounting the days of the Wild Wild West.

Of course, most people have seen bounty hunters in the movies and on television too; Steve McQueen starred in a movie entitled “The Hunter,” Robert DeNiro was in a picture called “Midnight Run,” and Clint Eastwood was in a story called “Pink Cadillac.” Old Westerns were notorious for portraying bounty hunters as shrewd crusty characters adrift across the country recovering fugitives. Currently, we have Duane, “Dog” Chapman parading around as a bounty hunter and evangelical spiritualist really making a mockery of what we do. Obviously this is nothing more than fiction created by Hollywood but most of these characters are at least part reality; these embellished fictional ideals depict real men.

Historically speaking, it is important to understand where bail law comes from. Contemporary bail law evolved from Old-English common law, when a person posting bail for a defendant meant that he could be eventually hanged or otherwise punished if the accused did not return for trial. Today a bail bondsman is not in any danger of losing his head, just a large sum of money promised to the courts to insure the defendant's appearance. This promised money is called a bail bond.

For our purposes, it is critical to understand that the relationship between the bail bondsman and the defendant is contractual in nature, which explains why the enforcement of bail law is primarily a civil, and not criminal, action. It is within this concept of common law that bail enforcement agents derive their ability to work on behalf of a bail bondsman and enforce this contract. Typically, this contract gives the bondsman's agent the power to apprehend and surrender a defendant at any time, in any manner, and at any place of his choosing, though there are a few exceptions and the scope of our authority is always being narrowed by a continuous onslaught of legislation.

Modern-day bounty hunters and bail enforcement agents are by and large low-key professionals with a very specific skill-set more akin to private investigators than SWAT officers. We find ourselves all over the country and occasionally somewhere on the other side of the world in defense of our client's assets. Today's bail enforcement agent can make in excess of $60,000 a year, some well over $100,000 if they treat customers well, are successful in locating the fugitive and run a business replete with advertising and marketing strategies.

Collectively we account for more than 80% of all fugitive apprehensions made where defendants were bond-secured and failed to appear for court; it is done at ZERO cost to the tax payer. Furthermore, through constructive partnerships between law enforcement and bail enforcement, we have increased the efficiency of the criminal justice system while decreasing its overall cost to the public as well. Despite the negative press we seem to be getting currently, actual incidents involving a bail recovery agent are extremely rare.

I'm not sure where the future of bail enforcement lies but one thing is for certain, the men and women who risk their own lives to bring bail-fugitives to justice serve their communities well and without recognition for bringing back into balance the scales of Lady Justice; when a fugitive fails to appear for his or her day in court there is often a victim who has to wait too and "justice deferred is justice denied."

L. Scott Harrell is a private investigator and principal of CompassPoint Investigations, an investigative agency with offices in the Southeast United States. He is a noted speaker, writer and educator in the field of fugitive apprehension.

Unlike certain "media hounds," he does not wear a mullet hair-do or live on a tropical island where fugitives don't have far to run and he wears his concealable bullet-resistant vest UNDER his shirt where it belongs.

More information regarding bounty hunting and bail enforcement can be found on the internet:

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