What is a bounty hunter?
A bounty hunter is a person that works with a bail bondsman to apprehend a subject that has failed to appear to a court date after having posted bail for a pending trial. When an individual posts bail they are not paying their way out of a conviction. Instead they are paying for their release from holding pending their trial. If the defendant is found to be guilty by the court they must still serve the time mandated by the judge from the trial. They are however awarded the privilege of freedom during the trial.
Because of the flight risk involved an individual must be responsible for the defendant’s actions when they post bail for a pending trial. The bondsman who signed the bond for the defendant’s release is the one who is ultimately responsible to ensure the individual shows up to their court appearances on the designated dates. In the event that an individual who is out on bail does not appear in court they are issued a failure to appear (FTA) warrant at which time they are considered a fugitive.
When this occurs the bondsman responsible for the fugitive contracts a bounty hunter or in many cases acts as the bounty hunter themselves to apprehend the fugitive. A bounty hunter’s proper business title is Fugitive Recovery Agent and they are required to hold the proper certifications for this occupation in order to operate in their local or federal jurisdiction. In many cases a bondsman will act as their own bounty hunter but there are some instances as well where these positions are held by different individuals in a company.
The evolution of bounty hunting:
Bounty hunting began in the Wild West era where there was a severe lack of certified law enforcement presence among settlements far away from major municipalities. This was a time when vigilante justice was in some regions the only form of justice available for criminals. A bounty would be issued on a criminal at which time any individual with the courage to take on the task was available to apprehend the criminal. In most cases this was done by lawmen, marshals, sheriffs or deputies who held positions in a law enforcement trade.
As the United States moved from the settlement culture to the society we are accustomed to in modern times the old bounty hunters became a thing of the past and in some cases were viewed by the public as criminals as well. This is where the modern duties of a bounty hunter came into play as the bail bonds industry began to flourish.
Where is bounty hunting practiced today?
Bounty hunting is still a very unique and selective trade and many individuals in the world today do not have the luxury of taking on this occupation in their country of residence. In fact, only two countries in throughout the world today legal allow bounty hunters to operate in their borders, these countries being the United States of America and the Philippines. Although many countries do have a bail bonds system in place offering commercial bail through certified agencies, these companies do not have the ability to track down and apprehend their own fugitives within the confines of the laws of their native nation.
Bounty hunting in modern media:
Bounty hunters are a phenomenon which have been present in modern cinema almost since its creation. Most commonly we see them in Western movies where they assume the role of a marshal seeking a posse of criminals. One of the most popularized bounty hunters of fiction is Boba Fett from the popular science fiction movie Star Wars. This individual was an interstellar bounty hunter tasked by the dark side to seek criminals of the Empire. The connotation for Boba Fett was as a bad guy although the actual art of bounty hunting is much to the contrary.
In recent times, with the rise of reality television, another bounty hunter has gained popularity (and a bit of infamy) for his heroic actions which led to an international criminal trial. This person is Dog the Bounty Hunter, aka Dog Chapman who operates a bail bonds agency out of Hawaii. Dog Chapman gained international stardom when he was arrested in Mexico for kidnapping charges when attempting to apprehend one of his clients. The client in question during this incident was the infamous Andrew Luster who was the heir to the Max Factor fortune. He was accused of multiple accounts of date rape by drugging women at bars and in his home and videotaping his brutal assaults on his victims.
Naturally the American public revered Chapman as a hero for his participation in removing a dangerous predator and fugitive of the law from the streets. Since the fugitive fled to Mexico however, the issue arose when Dog Chapman crossed an international border to apprehend his fugitive. The laws in Mexico associate the actions of a bounty hunter as a kidnapper carrying a maximum sentence of 20 years in a Mexican prison. Eventually the charges were dropped by Mexican authorities in 2007.
Since this event Chapman not only gained international fame but also a popular television show documenting his families exploits in the bail bonds industry. Since the start of his show there have been an increasing number of shows related to fugitive recovery, bail bonds and bounty hunting in modern media.
Public opinion on bounty hunting:
Although this industry is now commonly accepted in the United States as a meaningful and honest career there is still a stigma attached to bounty hunters and bail bondsmen due to the actions of a select few. There have been a variety of convictions of bounty hunters who did not follow the proper legal protocol when apprehending a subject resulting in prison time served. Due to these types of cases there is still a stigma on the bail bonds industry that this career still carries its origins of vigilante justice.
Despite what side an individual takes on the debate, bounty hunting is a phenomenon that will remain an integral part of American society and our justice system until otherwise stated through legal litigation by the federal and state governments.