Bail & Bounty-Hunters - for real?

In addition to my SDMB addiction (see , I am also a non-recovering L&O addict on A&E (although what will happen in the fall with the time change moving it late in the night I shudder to think).

Watching it, I’ve got a few questions about U.S. criminal procedure.

A. Bail - the only thing they seem to discuss on bail is money, and great gobs of it. Under U.S. law, can’t the court consider things like flight risk or risk to the community directly, or is the money always a surrogate for these types of concerns?

B. Bail seems to be posted by bond companies, who have no personal involvement in the case. How does this work? How do they make money off it? Does the accused pay a premium to the company, like regular insurance, which the accused never gets back?

C. Bounty-Hunters - is this for real?!? Both L&O and Homicide have had cases about bounty-hunters. Didn’t that go out with the closing of the frontier? If they do exist, and are exercising authority granted under state laws, how come they don’t have to comply with constitutional protections, like search and seizure law? If their authority comes from the state, don’t they become state agents?

So, what’s the Dope, you SDMB lawyers? Is L&O just stretching the law for “dramatic effect,” or is it relatively accurate? and if the latter, how does it all work?

Any comments would be appreciated.

I’m not a lawyer, but I’ll give it a try:

A - Bail can be denied if the judge feels that there is a risk of flight or danger to the community. Bail is simply a way for a defendant to back up his promise to appear with hard cash. Since the case hasn’t reached a penalty phase, the defendent is still considered innocent, so jail can only be used as a way of preventing flight or additional crimes, not punnishment.

B - Bail Bondsmen are loan companies. You put up some collatiral and the premium(interest) and he takes the risk that you will appear for trial and the principle(bail) will be returned.

C - If you run, your body is what’s standing between the bondsman and the principle of the loan. The government (both fed. and state) have passed laws (many dating back to the 19th cen.) to oblige him in this endevour. Bounty hunters have many of the same powers of law enforcement without many of the constraining, constitutional responsibilitys. Basically when you signed the paperwork you agreed that the bondsman can deny you any of the constitutional rights that a cop would have to afford you.

jti aksed: Bail seems to be posted by bond companies, who have no personal involvement in the case. How does this work? How do they make money off it? Does the accused pay a premium to the company, like regular insurance, which the accused never gets back?

*Bail companies make their profit by charging the accused a percentage of their bail.

You or your representative (lawyer, friend, dad) call them and tell them where you are being held. They come down and post your bail, and you are released into their custody. They then take you to where you can get some cash, and you pay them the percentage agreed upon. Then then let you go on your own recognazance.

When you go to court at your appointed time, the bail money is returned to the bail bond company.

So if you skip town, they don’t get their money back. The authorities will then issue a warrent for your arrest. If the bail amount was high, the bond company will send out their own agents (bounty hunters) too to find you and bring you in. Otherwise, they’re out the money they posted.*

A. Yeh the courts consider all that if you got property, how long you been at one residence, if you got a job, your reputation, the crime your charged with, etc.
B.Yes they make money , you pay them a pecentage up front. They put up the rest. Thats why they hire the bounty hunters if you skip.If you don’t show up in court when your s’posed to the bail is forfeit. A performance bond is more like insuarance you pay premiums.
C. THIS is the biggy.They are for real. You can be one if you want . Anybody can bring in a skip. There is a lot of debate going on right now about just what is the legal status of a bounty hunter.Especially in Arizona I think, the other states are waiting to see the outcome of that.What Arzona is going to do and how it stands up in court.
The courts generally have considered bounty hunters to be private citizens and let them get away with some real nasty stuff. It is up to the person they bring in to sue in civil court. The actions of the bounty hunter aren’t part of the original case. You already been arrested and charged, skipping is a seperate deal.
Some states do have licensing but it is usually only for employees of a bail bondsman.There are instances of bounty hunters going into other states,even other countries, and basically kidnaping people.

Signitorily yours, Mr John
" Pardon me while I have a strange interlude."-Marx (Melissa Gilbert is in the rest room right now or she would have a snappy comeback)


Thanks for the info. Your answer to the first point leads me to ask another question: can bail be denied solely for flight risk/danger to the community, even if the accused has the cash?

To take an obviously implausible hypothesis, what happens if Bill Gates is charged with the murder of Steve Jobs?

If the DA says, “we’re asking for a cool $10 million in bail,” Bill can snap his fingers for a flunkey to bring it in in a wheelbarrow.

Can the DA say instead that Bill is a flight risk, considering his many private jets, yachts, and cash, and ask that bail be denied regardless?

Or, what if Bill was caught with a hate-list of people, like the presidents of Netscape, SUN, and the federal counsel handling the anti-trust case, and Steve Jobs was only No. 1 on the list? Can the DA say there’s grounds to believe that releasing Bill would put the others at risk , and bail should be denied?

So can the court deny bail on the basis of flight risk or community risk, in spite of the $10 million in the wheelbarrow?

I’m just guessing now, jti, but I think the judge tailors the bail to fit the circumstances of the accussed. A valid bail ammount in the case of Bill Gates would have to be in the 2-figure billions to make it practical.

In the case of murder or any other high penalty crime I don’t think bail would be granted to anybody with the means to leave the country (case in point - OJ Simpson)

A. The monetary amount is typically based on the risk to escape as well the danger to the community. If either (or both) is considered too great, no bail. Typically there are other restrictions as well (i.e. no leaving the state)

B. Vigorish.

C. Arizona has virtually no restrictions on bounty hunters. They’re currently reevaluating that position after a botched armed robbery where the killers claimed that they were bounty hunters and their “bail jumper” (victim) opened fire first.

As to the Bill Gates hypothetical situation, the judge alone determines the appropriate bail amount. For ANY defendant if the judge believes that person is a flight risk or community risk, no matter what the $$$ amount, bail can be denied.

I have a different question: Sometimes I hear on the news, “John Doe was held in lieu of $25000 bail.” Isn’t that backwards? Holding the suspect is what the officials really want to do! Accepting bail is in lieu of holding the suspect!

What gives? Is this just another example of press inaccuracy?

Keeves… my understanding is that what they’re really saying is that the bail was set at $25,000, the accused couldn’t or didn’t pay it, so he’s still in jail. However, if tomorrow he comes up with the money, he’s out.

Here’s an article about some of the excesses that can arise due to the actions of bounty hunters:

I sure wouldn’t want to be hunted down by one of those guys! In the United States, bounty hunters do not operate under the same code as law enforcement officers.

Jacques Kilchoer
Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.

I still don’t get why the constitutional protections don’t apply to bounty hunters. If they are exercising powers delegated by the state (have I got that right, to start with?), how can those rights be waived? After all, if, as a condition of getting a driver’s licence, the state asked you to waive your rights against arbitrary search and seizure or detention, it wouldn’t be effective, would it? can you contract out of such basic rights in advance?

They’re not working for the state, they’re working for the bail bond company. Even though they’ve got the same goal (tracking down a bail jumper) they have two different employers.

okay, but if they’re just a private company, not an agent of the state, what gives them the right to detain someone and haul them back across the state line? That’s assault and kidnapping. gets back to my puzzlement - can you waive your rights prospectively by contract, to allow someone to take you against your will? or I am just missing something?

After all, if, as a condition of getting a driver’s licence, the state
asked you to waive your rights against arbitrary search and seizure or
detention, it wouldn’t be effective, would it?
can you contract out of such basic rights in advance?
2nd part 1st: yes,When you go into the military,for example, you give up some ‘basic rights’. Other rights are given up when you are employed by any one.And having your luggage searched when you enter the boarding areas of airports. That is part of a ‘contract’ you enter into when entering. The airport contracts to let you in , you contract to being seached. If your profession requires a license the state can come in and check your premises for violations without a warrant. Restaurants and health inspecters, Pharmacists and narcs.
1st part 2nd: You give up some rights here too.The state contracts to let you drive on the public byways. You contract to pay for this privlege. In addition you agree that if you refuse to take a breathalyzer test (which some have argued is 'testifying against yourself) the state will suspend your license for a specified period whether you are convicted of DUI or not.

From William H. Carlile, Special to The Christian Science Monitor (typically not my first choice for cites):

Bounty hunters have operated under virtually the same rules for more than a century. An 1873 United States Supreme Court ruling gives bounty hunters broad rights when pursuing criminals who skipped bail.

As contract workers for bail-bond firms, they are not required to obtain a search warrant, as are police, nor are they required to notify police in advance of their action. Also, police must get a subject to waive extradition if he flees the state, while a bounty hunter, “throws you in the trunk and brings you back,” says Aaron Rosenthal, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

They have a “contractual right of arrest,” says Bob Burton, who runs a Tucson, Ariz., academy that trains bounty hunters. When a defendant has bail posted, he signs an agreement stating he may have his house entered or be taken across state lines if he fails to honor the agreement.
Seems pretty shaky to me too.

so why don’t the states all include, as a condition of your licence, that the police can arbitrarily stop you? Isn’t there a limit to this idea somewhere?

A contractual right of arrest?!? Only in America…

Under the law I’m familiar with, you can’t contract away your liberty. For example, if Robin Williams contracts to give a performance, and then declines, the courts will not force him to perform. The other party to the contract can sue for big bucks, but can’t force him to do his schtick - that’s “involuntary servitude.”

So, even if I sign this contract authorising arrest, and then skip, how can they grab me against my current will and transport me to someplace I don’t want to go?

Also, I can’t sign away someone else’s rights, can I? So if I skip from North Dakota to South Dakota and stay with a friend, the bounty hunters can’t break into the friend’s house to arrest me under the contract, can they?

I have to admit I’m not really up to date on bounty hunting laws but one thing to remember: the bounty hunters won’t come after you (and can’t) until you miss your scheduled hearing.

If you don’t show up at the hearing then the court will issue a warrant for your arrest. It’s the arrest warrant that really allows the bounty hunters to grab you, using a citizens arrest. So it really doesn’t matter whether you want to go or not.

Also, a couple of bounty hunters I knew in the past told me that they usually told the local police that they where in town and would show the local PD the warrant they had for the arrest of the skipper. Said it made things alittle easier.

I would point out that typically bounty hunters only go after felons (who usually have the larger amounts of money riding on them–I think a bounty hunter usually gets 10%), especially across state lines or it may cost too much in expenses to make it worth while.

Not sure if that helped clarify anything…

Gen A.C. McAuliffe
“The general’s nuts.”
unknown 101st AB grunt

Okay, Mojo says they’re private operators, therefore the Constitution doesn’t restrict them. Xgemina says they are enforcing a warrant, which to my mind would make them the agent of the state and therefore subject to the Constituion.

I still don’t get it. (I’m not trolling; I’m genuinely baffled.)

At any rate, thanks for the TIME site and the Christian Science article quotations. They’ve helped a bit.

When I watched the original L&O and Homicide shows, I was shaking my head because I thought they must have got it wrong. I’m still shaking my head, but for a different reason - what is this weird stuff?

i don’t really know what I am talking about. Where’s a lawyer when you need one?

>so why don’t the states all include, as a condition of your licence,
that the police can arbitrarily stop you?<
It is an ‘on again off again’ policy here in Texas that the police can set up road blocks for ‘license, insurance, and sobriety checks’. sometimes the courts say yes sometimes no. State troopers can pull over commercial rigs any time they want for ‘safety and weight checks’.
>For example, if Robin Williams contracts… …that’s “involuntary servitude.” AH but Mr Williams agreed to perform and signed a contract. If he’s been paid he either gives the moneyback plus pays any ‘damages’, which can include anticipated profits or he performs. Aint nothin involuntary about it unless he was forced into the agreement somehow.
> the bounty hunters can’t break into the friend’s house to arrest me
under the contract, can they? If the COPS have a warrant for your arrest they don’t need any other warrant to go into anywhere to get you. And we already know the bountyhunters aren’t under the same restrictions.
Xgemina sez “It’s the arrest warrant that really allows the bounty hunters to grab
you, using a citizens arrest.” Uh sorta, if ‘Texas wants you anyway’ and your in Oklahoma, the OK cops might arrest you and take you to one of their jails where a Texas Ranger will try to convince you to waive extradition failing that you’ll languish in jail while the OK courts decide if you should go back to Texas. But the Ranger can’t go there, grab you, and take you back to Texas. Which the bounty hunters do. BTW if you , as just you, not a bounty hunter, are attempting a ‘citizens arrest’ you better not ‘grab’ any one, your opening yourself up for all sorts of legal problems. kidnaping, unlawful detention, etc.
Clear as the Rio Grande after a rain isn’t it? Thats why all the legal stuff is happening now. JTI mentioned the school in Arizona. Arizona seems to be the hotspot right now, lots of ‘violations’ by bounty hunters there have resulted in the state legislature taking a look at bounty hunting in general.Rest of the states waiting to see which way the frog jumps. whew, thats the most I typed in years.

Don’t think of it as enforcing a warrant, think of it as a citizen’s arrest. With a citizen’s arrest, you do not have to read Miranda rights and follow certain procedures that the police have to in order for the arrest to be legit in court. If you accidentally grab the wrong person, you’ll be in deep trouble for kidnapping a (presumably) law-abiding citizen. However, if you catch the right person, you’re saving the cops a lot of time and hassle trcking the guy down.