Bounty Hunters Scott Gribble and Steve Krause After Catching Two Fugitives

Bounty hunters are one of the least understood and at the same time, most misunderstood components of the criminal justice system. They’re often thought of as independent wheeler dealers who hang around at the post office reading wanted posters and then enter bars with guns blazing in search of outlaws. But the fact is that in almost every instance the bounty hunter is hired by the bail bonding agent to help track down a defendant who has skipped bail and fled. Many fugitives and would-be fugitives are aware they may wind up with a bounty hunter on their tail. But a large percentage of these ne’er do wells believe they can evade capture if they flee to another state. Is that the case?

Nowhere to Run For Bail Bonds Fugitives

The bonding agent hires the bounty hunter because it’s the agent’s duty to return people to custody who they have bailed out. Why’s that? Because it’s the agent who actually posted the bond for the accused. As a result, they are the ones the law considers legally responsible if the person flees. The loved one who signed on as indemnitor paid a separate fee to the bail bondsman for their services and put up collateral to secure the bond. But the bonding agent is the payee of record.

So once a person decides to head for the hills the bonding agent is the one responsible for tracking them down. But bonding agents are busy. So they hire bounty hunters to conduct search and retrieval operations on the fugitive for them. In many cases the accused can be tracked down without too much difficulty. That’s because most humans are creatures of habit. So once the bounty hunter locates relatives, friends and known hangouts it’s often just a matter of time before the fugitive makes an appearance.

The bounty hunter has the authority to enter any premises owned or rented by the accused without a warrant to apprehend them. They can also apprehend them in almost any public venue such as restaurants, bars and the like. But if a fugitive is determined to stay free and heads out of state can the bounty hunter pursue them? The answer in almost all cases is “yes”.

How Did Bounty Hunters Obtain This Power?

The contemporary bounty hunter derives their power to cross state lines in pursuit of a fugitive from Adams County, Broomfield County, Weld County or Denver by way of a 19th century Supreme Court ruling known as Taylor v Taintor. In that decision the Supreme Court affirmed the notion that, once they sign the bail contract with the bondsman, the defendant places themselves in the custody of said bail agent as well as anyone that works for the bail agent, including the bounty hunter. Once the defendant breaks the bail contract the bail agent then has the right to retrieve them. Even if it means pursuing them from state to state.

In effect the Supreme Court determined that bondsmen, and the bounty hunters that work with them, are proxies of the state. As such they are deserving of police powers and have the right to pursue the accused to whatever length. The only restrictions on the bounty hunter’s ability to pursue are that they cannot pursue and apprehend a fugitive in a state that does not recognize the authority of the bail agent and they cannot pursue fugitives internationally.

Ye Olde Castle Doctrine

The thing about fugitives is that most of them are essentially practical. They don’t flee to Montana or Wyoming where they’ll have a hard time finding a place to live and have to endure long, brutal winters. Instead they head for the sunshine and warmth. A good proportion wind up in sunny Florida where accommodations are plentiful and the beaches are endless. Why does that matter? Because Florida is one of those states that lives by the Castle Doctrine.

The Castle Doctrine allows a person to use deadly force on an intruder if they have reason to think their life is in danger. And since bounty hunters often enter private homes with guns drawn to protect themselves one could argue that an unsuspecting fugitive had reason to believe his life was very much in danger and therefore had a right to gun down the bounty hunter.

Fortunately for bounty hunters, and unfortunately for fugitives, it’s not that cut and dry. Because the Castle Doctrine comes complete with a number of caveats including this one:

The Castle Doctrine does not apply if the invader has the right to be in the home.

Remember, the Supreme Court has recognized bounty hunters are proxies of the state with police powers who have a right to pursue a fugitive across state lines. They also recognize that the fugitive signed over custody of himself to the bail bonding agent and bounty hunter when he signed the bail contract. Therefore, the bounty hunter very much has a right to be in that house. So if the fugitive comes out firing hoping to hide behind the Castle Doctrine it’s not going to work.

The Bottom Line

Fugitives hoping that they can leave the bounty hunter behind if they cross into another state are often times in for an unpleasant surprise. If you or someone you know is thinking of skipping bail and heading to South Beach to start a new life, you’d be wise to think again.