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Bounty Hunters: Who Are They, What Can They Do?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

The days of Dog the Bounty Hunter being a household icon may be over. While the profession was glorified for eight seasons on A&E (as much for the eponymous Duane "Dog" Chapman's hair a sunglass choices as the hot pursuit of criminal suspects), recent events have begun to cast bail enforcement agents in a more negative light.

The killing of country singer Randy Howard and a John Oliver segment about the bail process have left many wondering whether it's wise to have a largely unregulated, pseudo-police force hunting people who skipped a court date for money. So who are these bounty hunters and how much power do they have?

Bail Bondsmen & Bounty Hunters

Bail is a system that attempts to guarantee that people arrested and charged with a crime show up for their trial if they are released from jail. The process is simple: you pay a certain amount of money to the court (bail), which is only repaid to you if and when you appear. If you can't afford your bail, you can contract with a bail bondsman to pay the bail and charge you around 10 to 20 percent of the total bail amount.

Most bounty hunters work in conjunction with bail bond agents, tracking down suspects who have "skipped bail" or tried to run from impending court dates after they are released. As Fox News Reported, "Nearly half the states in the U.S. have no law enforcement requirements to become a bail enforcement agent. And only 11 states, including California, Arizona, Connecticut, and Iowa, require bounty hunters to be licensed."

License to Kill?

Not only is the entry to becoming a bail enforcement agent largely unregulated, the actual practice of bounty hunting is also somewhat above the law. According to Robert McCrie, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, "Bounty hunters can do things that law enforcement is just unable to do."

Jackie Shell, the bounty hunter that killed Howard, says the country singer shot first and he has not been charged with a crime. Bounty hunters are given quite a bit of latitude when pursuing suspects who have fled from justice, and neither states nor the federal government seem to be in a hurry to crack down on the process.

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