Please explain what Dog the Bounty Hunter does and how he makes his money

I’m not referring to the TV show but his bail & bounty business. I’ve watched a few blips from the show but I’m not sure I’ve watched one in its entirety- I understand from what I’ve seen that he’s more of a bail bondsman than a bounty hunter in the “chasing down criminals with a price on their head” variety.

I understand generally how bail works (not from personal experience, thank Og). If the accused criminal’s bail is set at $10,000 and he doesn’t have that kind of money, then the accused or his family/friend/whatever puts up $1000 and signs with Dog who guarantees to the court that the accused will be in court on X date or that he (Dog) will pay $10,000. If the accused shows up in court on the assigned date then Dog is off the hook and he keeps the accused’s 10% (or whatever the percentage is) as his fee for guaranteeing the remaining $9,000. Is this generally correct?

Okay, Dog chases down people who have jumped bail. Are these people he’s posted bail for?

Assume $10,000 guy doesn’t show up for court. Dog presumably has had to pony up the $9,000 between the 10% and the bail. When Dog arrests him and delivers him to the authorities, does he get the $10,000 back? Does he get the same fee from the accused/family whether the accused shows up in court or not or is there an agreement that the accused/family will pay him (Dog) the full amount if the accused doesn’t show or… what exactly? Does the court pay him a reward for bringing in the person whose bail he signed?

Does Dog (specifically) contract with other bondsman to track down the ones who don’t show for court or does he just track down his own fugitives? On what authority does he have the power to make arrests? Can he go onto private property?

Are there really enough people who jump bail to make your average successful bail bondsman spend significant time tracking them down or is this for television?

Thanks for any insight.

As I understand it, Dog (or any other bondsman) must put up the $10,000 immediately, and gets it back from the court when the suspect appears in court. If he does, then Dog gets a $1000 profit. Otherwise, he loses $9,000. This is a significant motivator for making sure the guy arrives.

I don’t know if Dog contracts with other bondsman or not, but the authority to make the arrest comes from the bail contract you sign when you take out the bail bond. It says, essentially “If I skip town, I give you permission to track down and arrest me.” The Supreme Court case Taylor v. Taintor established this and recognized quite wide latitude for bounty hunters. They’re not bound by the strict standards that police are with regard to warrants and evidence, because their job is to catch someone who skipped on a bail contract and voluntarily forfeited his rights, as opposed to conducting a criminal investigation.

Also, someone is more likely to post a bond on you if you put up collateral, like your house or car. Dog then gets to repo that if you fail to show.

I’m not sure about this. If you had collateral for the full value of the bond, you would not have to go through a bail bondsman and pay him the 10%. So, any collateral a bail bondsman would have would likely be only for his fee amount, and he still would be at risk for the other 90%.


Do courts accept collateral, though? I thought they only took cash. So if you had a car you’d either have to take a bail bond or sell the car for cash and use that.

I don’t know specifically about Dog but someone could contract with a bondsman. If someone skips on a bondsman, he could contract with me to get the deadbeat back. Maybe I would get 20% of the value of the bond.

Bounty hunters are a strange breed legally and I don’t think most other 1st world countries have something similar. They basically have a license to kidnap once you skip off from them. They can pursue someone across state lines, stalk them, and then break into a place that they are staying in the middle of the night, bind and gag them, and throw them in the back of the car to head back to the courthouse. They have way more leeway than the actual police. To do the job, you really need to be a psycho badass. After all, their job depends on kidnapping murderers and rapists.

Do bounty hunters have a practical limit on what they can do besides not killing the person for fun? Can they just beat the hell out of a rapist once they have detained them? I am sure that this is technically illegal but the bounty hunter operates in a strange world and who is going to listen to the fleeing suspect?

Once, on a “pop-up video” style episode, they popped up a note saying that Beth (Dog’s wife, who runs the bail bond side of the business) must write something like $400,000 in bonds per month to keep the business afloat. I’m not certain of the number, but it was in that neighborhood.

A related question: When Dog and his crew are chasing after someone, they seem to be wearing badges on chains around their necks. The badges seem to be a variety of different shapes.

Does anyone know whether those badges are anything official, or are they just random, meaningless badges they’ve picked up somewhere?

On the amount that the bail bond company has to put up, I don’t know the laws in Dog’s jurisdiction, but often where something needs to be “bonded” in court, the court will take a certificate from a licensed insurance or surety company in lieu of actual payment of the bond amount. I assume that Dog’s firm is either a licensed surety or an agent of such a surety entitled to give courts the bonding certificates.

Even if the collateral is not worth the full amount, it still allows Dog to cut his losses some in the event that he can’t get the guy to court. Without collateral, he has to bring in at least 90% of his folks to turn a profit. With collateral worth 50% in each case, he could get away with 80% success. I’m sure his success rates are higher than that, but that just means more profit.

That’s the whole point of a bond, the very definition, isn’t it? You don’t pay a “bail bond” to the court, you pay “bail.” If you’re out on a “bond” it’s not because you paid bail, but because someone posted a bond for you in lieu of bail.

So if Dog catches the guy who skipped on $10,000 bail that Dog put up, does he get his $10,000 back when he takes the guy in or is that still forfeit?

Yes. It’s not so much making money in his case as it is not losing money. There are people who specialize in hunting down skips for bondsmen, a la Midnight Run, but I don’t think that’s what he does.

I believe that when the skipper is returned to the authorities, the bondsman can make an application to have bail forfeiture lifted.

They’re most probably just novelties for the most part. Anyone can buy one and it kind of helps with the look. Not too many people are going to stop a dude with a badge if he’s chasing down someone. It probably helps to have some official looking bling.

I’ve heard that the whole “Dead or Alive” thing seen in Old West wanted posters referred to the desire of the bondsman and not the court per se. Apparently, if someone skipped bail and the bondsman was facing a loss, he could bring the fugitive’s dead body to the court and still get his money back.

I wouldn’t think that this is still the case . . . or is it?

I haven’t heard that.

That said, I can only find facsimilies of wanted posters for the Old West as they pertain to known outlaws who have evaded capture or who have escaped from prison. Such posters appear to be authorised by a sheriff, a marshal or, in some cases, a state governor. I have a hard time believing that suspects who skipped bail supplied by a bondsman would have appeared on a poster as Wanted: Dead or Alive at the behest of the bondsman in question, irrespective of the alleged crime.

Subject to the strictures of the wanted poster it’s possible, but not a preferable option for the bondsman.

Whereas in the Old West a fugitive could be the subject of a Dead or Alive edict, Dead was invariably less financially rewarding to a bondsman or bounty hunter than Alive. In fact, Dead didn’t reap the full reward for anyone who killed a wanted criminal. Bob Ford received half the bounty on the head of Jesse James simply because he turned in a Dead Jesse instead of the living version. Therefore if a bail bondsman was in any way involved in the pursuit of a fugitive it would not be in his best financial interests to check in a dead body rather than a live person.

Indeed. Bail bonding for profit is illegal in Canada, and therefore no bounty hunting.

Out of curiosity - how do Canadian courts handle bail then? Do they set it to values low enough for accused criminals to make it regularly, or do a lot more people waiting for trial stay in jail?

In many jurisdictions if you attempt to bond by collateral, the collateral must have a liquid value of three time the full amount of the bond. So if the bond is $10,000 and you want to use your house, you must have $30,000 in equity free of any encumbrances or liens. It would be easier to take out a home equity loan and pay the $10,000 bond. Plus, you can’t just walk into court and hand the judge a copy of your title, it must be appraised and the lender needs to get involved. Using collateral is a complicated process.

Also most bondsmen evaluate the defendant for type and seriousness of crime alleged, ties to the community and likelihood he will skip, employment and residence history. You can bet that a career criminal with no work history or ties to the community will have to pay the full 10% fee plus provide rock solid collateral for the full amount of the bond and have at least two co-signers who will be responsible for the costs of tracking him down if he skips and be on the hook for the full amount of the bond.

Of course, given the nature of the bail bond business there are frequently hungry bondsmen who will post a questionable bond because they need the money. All bondsmen carry insurance though to insure payment to the court. When a bondsman posts bail with the court no actual money changes hands. The bondsman simply agrees to be obligated to the court for the full amount if the defendant fails to show up. If that happens the bondsman has six months to produce him before having to pay, and can get extensions in six month increments.

Most of the time they don’t even start looking for the person until almost six months have passed. They generally rely on the person getting picked up on the warrant by the police, usually during a routine traffic stop. It does not matter how or where the person gets back into police custody, once they are in custody the bond is exonerated.

All this applies to my jurisdiction, others are certainly different.