Bail is a set of restrictions or terms that are set by a court which allow a criminal defendant to go free while they wait for their trial to begin. These terms are intended to ensure that the defendant appears for court when they are required for trial or other pre-trial hearings.
Typically, bail is in the form of cash or a bail bond. Cash bail is where a defendant deposits money or property with the court that will be returned after the defendant makes all of their required court appearances.
If the defendant does not appear, the money or property will not be returned. The promise of the money or property being returned is the incentive for the defendant to appear for all of their required court appearances.
What Is a Bail Bond?
A bail bond is similar to cash bail. However, the money is provided to a third party called a bail bondsman. The defendant agrees to appear in court when they are required to or else be liable to the bail bondsman for the amount of bail that is set by the court.
If a defendant fails to appear in court, the bail bondsman or one of their agents may track them down and bring them to court. This may be done by bounty hunters, or bail enforcement agents.
In some cases, the defendant is permitted to go free before their trial without posting any cash bail or without enlisting the help of a bail bondsman, called being released on their own recognizance. This is only allowed when the court is confident that the defendant will appear in court, even without any financial incentive.
What Are Bounty Hunters?
A bounty hunter is an individual who seeks out fugitives for a monetary award. Bail enforcement agents have no official rights or authority but, instead, are typically agents of bail bondsmen who will owe the bail money for the fugitive if they evade the court.
A bounty hunter is paid a percentage of the bail if they can successfully bring back the fugitive.
How Do Bail Bonds Work?
When an individual is arrested for a crime, they are detained until they can appear in court and enter a plea. When the criminal defendant pleads not guilty, they are given a date to return to court for trial.
In a case where a defendant is not likely to pose a danger to other individuals if they are released pending trial, the court may release them on bail. The court will set bail at a certain amount and amount and it is up to the defendant to deposit that amount of money, or property that is valued at that amount, with the court.
The money or property, as noted above, remains until the defendant has made all of their required court appearances. In many cases, a criminal defendant will not have access to the amount of money that is required for their bail.
Instead, the defendant may contract with a bail bondsman and purchase a bail bond. This is typically 10% of the bail amount.
The bail bondsman agrees to cover the entire cost of the defendant’s bail if they do not appear for court. The bail bondsman employers individuals who track down defendants and ensure they appear.
The bail bondsman keeps the 10% fee as their profit. For example, suppose a criminal defendant is charged with a crime and their bail is set at $1,000.
Suppose the defendant does not have that much money so they pay a bail bondsman $100. The bondsman agrees to pay the court the full $1,000 if the defendant does not appear.
As long as the defendant appears as required, the bondsman keeps the $100 and no one will owe any additional money. If the defendant does not appear for court, the bondsman will first try to track them down and bring them to court.
If the bondsman cannot find the defendant, they will be required to pay the court $1,000. It is important to note that certain states have bail bonds but do not allow bail bondsmen to conduct business.
In these states, a defendant can pay 10% of the bail amount to the court. If the defendant does not appear when they are required, the other 90% must be paid by whomever paid the 10% deposit.
How Is Bail Set?
When a judge is setting bail, one of the first things they will consider is the seriousness of the crime that is charged. In cases where the crime was very serious, bail will be a high amount if it is granted all.
The court will also take into consideration the defendant’s criminal history. A defendant who has a history of committing serious crimes will have a higher bail amount.
The court will also assess the likelihood that the defendant will make their court appearances. If the court believes the defendant is likely to appear, bail may be set at a lower amount.
A defendant who has a history of missing court appearances or is considered a flight risk will have a higher bail.
What Are the Laws Regarding Bounty Hunters?
Although a bounty hunter does not have any official capacity, the law provides significant leeway for a bounty hunter to recover a fugitive who attempts to skip out on their bail. Bounty hunter laws provide that before a bounty hunter can act, the court must typically issue a bench warrant that authorizes the immediate arrest of a defendant for failing to appear in court.
Because a bounty hunter is not a law enforcement officer, the legality of bounty hunting is different. They are not required to follow the same strict rules as law enforcement officers, for example, needing a warrant to enter an individual’s property.
When an individual agrees to their bail bond contract, they sign an agreement that allows a bounty hunter to come after them if they break the agreement. A bounty hunter is permitted to enter the home of a defendant unannounced and transport them across state lines.
It is important to note that bounty hunting laws may vary by state. For example, in California, there are specific statutes that regulate bounty hunting.
There are four states that ban the practice of bounty hunting, including:
- Wisconsin; and
What Can a Bounty Hunter Legally Do?
There are some limits to the scope of a bounty hunter’s authority. A bounty hunter can enter the home of a defendant to make an arrest, as noted above.
In order to enter a home of the defendant’s friends or family, however, they typically need at least reasonable suspicion that the fugitive is present. This will depend on the laws of the state as well as the facts surrounding the pursuit.
There are several states that have placed additional restrictions on bounty hunters, including:
- Requiring background checks and formal training;
- Prohibiting bounty hunters from carrying firearms;
- Requiring a license to perform bounty hunting;
- Some states do not recognize out-of-state licenses;
- Requiring clothing that identifies them as bounty hunters.
The State of Kentucky does not have a system of bail bones because suspects are released on their own recognizance. In general, bounty hunting is not allowed.
The only exception is for a suspect who has fled federal charges from another state.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
Bail may be a complicated issue for those who are not familiar with the process. Additionally, it can result in heavy penalties if it is not handled correctly.
If you have any issues, questions, or concerns related to bail, bail bondsman, or bounty hunters, it may be helpful to consult with a criminal lawyer. Your lawyer can advise you of your rights and represent you in court if you have to appear.