Bail is a sum of money guaranteed to a court as a way to ensure criminal defendants make their court dates. Courts will often accept bail as an alternative to housing a defendant in jail while they await a hearing. This gives defendants a certain level freedom, while giving courts some assurance that the defendant will appear to face their charges. When a criminal defendant can’t afford to post bail on their own, they turn to a bondsman who guarantees payment of that money to the court in the event the defendant misses their court date.
This creates a win-win situation that saves the judicial system the expense of housing defendants, while allowing people facing criminal charges to be released from police custody while they await their court date. However, if a defendant who is out on bail does not appear in court as ordered, the bail bondsman is then obligated to pay the cash bond that was guaranteed to the court. To avoid forfeiting the cash bond and taking a loss, the bail bondsman will hire the services of a bounty hunter to locate, apprehend, and return the fugitive. Licensed bounty hunters receive arrest authority through the bail bondsman, which allows them to lawfully arrest the fugitive and receive a percentage of the bond for doing so.
To date, 22 states require bounty hunters to be licensed. Some states, including California, have specific statutes in place that regulate the practice of bounty hunting, but do not require licensure for these professionals. Just 4 states – Oregon, Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Illinois – ban the practice of bounty hunting altogether.
Bounty hunting, now a recognized profession across most of the United States, is typically regulated by the state’s insurance commission. A few states regulate bounty hunters through their department of finance or judicial branch.
Meeting State-Specific Bounty Hunter Licensing Requirements
Individuals who want to learn how to become a bounty hunter must first ensure they meet minimum requirements for licensure.
Although minimum requirements vary from state to state, most individuals interested in a bounty hunter license in their state must complete specific education and/or experience requirements, submit to a criminal background check, and must pass an exam. Other requirements include:
- A valid state driver’s license
- Pre-licensing training and certification
- State residency
- Specific age requirements
Most states have specific statutes prohibiting certain individuals from becoming bounty hunters, such as law enforcement professionals, attorneys, and judicial officers. Further, most states prohibit individuals from becoming bounty hunters if they have felony convictions or misdemeanor convictions involving crimes of moral turpitude.
Becoming Familiar with State Laws
Along with state requirements for licensure, many states have specific laws in place that regulate the profession of bounty hunting. For example, at least 15 states have specific language addressing how bounty hunters may arrest fugitives. In a number of states, for example, bounty hunters must be registered with the county sheriff.
At least nine states have specific language addressing how bounty hunters can dress. For example, bounty hunters in certain states must adhere to the specifications set forth by the Commissioner of Public Safety regarding their attire, which often requires bounty hunters to wear a vest or shirt with the words “Bail Enforcement Agent” (or similar) during an arrest.
At least 10 states have statutes regarding how bounty hunters can enter homes and other private property. In Arizona, for example, bounty hunters can only enter a home if they receive consent from all of the people inside the home during that time. In Washington, bounty hunters must have a “reasonable cause” to believe that the fugitive is inside the private property before they enter, and they must notify local law enforcement officials of their intent to enter the property.
All states with laws regarding bounty hunters have specific language that details the process that bounty hunters must take before they can make an arrest. Specifically, law enforcement officials must be notified when an arrest is to be made. In certain states, this language is precise. For example, in Virginia, bounty hunters must provide law enforcement officials with at least 24 hours’ notice before arresting a fugitive, and they must also notify law enforcement officials within 60 minutes upon apprehending the fugitive.
Continuing Education Requirements for Maintaining a License
The majority of states that license bounty hunters require the completion of continuing education during the license’s renewal period. In addition to continuing education, states with licensure for bounty hunters require the completion of a renewal application and the payment of a renewal fee.