For many outside the profession, bounty hunting is a little difficult to understand. Bounty hunters are not police officers because they have never gone through any type of police training, and yet they are more than vigilant civilians going around finding fugitives. But it is more than just the training involved in becoming a bounty hunter that makes people wonder about the profession. If they are not official law enforcement officers, but they still have some level of authority to capture fugitives, what exactly are their limits of power? Or do they even have any?
Legal Authority is Circumstantial
The term “bounty hunter” is now going out of style. These days, most prefer to be referred to as “fugitive recovery agents,” as it carries more credibility. Some carry a firearm if they are licensed within their state to do so, but many do not. Their job is simply to track down fugitives on behalf of a bondsman and bring them into police custody so the bondsman can recover the money he used to post bond for the individual. They work for private bail bond companies or as freelance recovery agents. Their legal authority is is often dependent on certain factors, such as the state in which they are performing their services.
California, for example, does not require bounty hunters to be licensed, but others states do. For a number of years, California only required that bounty hunters be at least 18 years old, have a clean criminal record, and complete a brief “power of arrest” course. That law is no longer in effect, and as a result just about anyone can become a bounty hunter if they have the will and the desire.
Supreme Court’s Opinion
From a federal standpoint, bounty hunters do not require a warrant to enter private property. This is based on a Supreme Court ruling dating back to 1872 that essentially gives these agents authority to make arrests with few restrictions. Despite the perception that they are “cowboys”, however, bounty hunters must still follow all applicable state and federal laws when recovering somebody who has skipped bond.