Bounty hunters, also known as bail enforcement agents, are people who seek out fugitives for a monetary reward.  They have no official authority but are typically agents of bail bondsmen who will owe the bail money for the fugitives if they evade the court.  The bounty hunters are paid a percentage of the bail if they can successfully bring back the fugitive. 

What Are the Laws Regarding Bounty Hunters?

While bounty hunters do not have any official capacity, the law provides significant leeway for bail bondsmen to recover fugitives who attempt to skip out on their bail.  Before they can act, a judge must usually issue a bench warrant which authorizes the immediate arrest of a suspect for failing to appear in court. 

Because they are not police officers, bounty hunters are not required to follow the same strict rules as policemen such as needing a warrant to enter someone’s private property.  When people agree to their bail bond contract, they sign an agreement allowing bounty hunters to come after them should they break the agreement.  The bounty hunter can enter the home of the suspect unannounced and transport him across state lines.

Are There Any Limits to Bounty Hunting?

There are some limits to what a bounty hunter can do.  Bounty hunters can enter the home of the suspect in order to make an arrest.  However, in order to enter the home of the suspect’s friends or family, they usually need at least a reasonable suspicion that the fugitive is present.  This may depend on the laws of the state and the facts surrounding the pursuit.   

Several states have placed additional restrictions on bounty hunters, including:

  • requiring background checks and formal training;
  • prohibiting bounty hunters from carrying firearms;
  • requiring a license in order to perform bounty hunting (some states do not recognize out-of-state licenses);
  • requiring clothing that identifies them as bounty hunters.

Kentucky does not have a system of bail bonds since suspects are released on their own recognizance, so bounty hunting is generally not allowed.  The only exception is for suspects who have fled federal charges from another state.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Bail is complicated for those not familiar with the process, and in addition, can impose heavy penalties when not handled correctly.  If you have had problems with bail bondsmen or their agents, a criminal lawyer can help you determine your rights.  A lawyer can also represent you in court.