> States Crack Down on Bounty Hunters[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
> The Quicker
> Amid More Cases of Apparent Abuse, States Crack Down on Bounty Hunters
> Jan. 30 — Bounty Hunter Billy Wells admits his profession has an image
> "There's a picture that pops up your mind when you say 'bounty hunter,'" he
> said. "You think of a thug."It's an image that is not helped by regular —
> infrequent — horror stories of bounty hunters' apparent abuses and
> such as the killing of a Virginia man last month. Police say a bounty
> with criminal record raided the wrong home and fatally shot an innocent
> And it's more than just an image problem for those who make their living as
> skip tracers. Pressure from lawmakers is slowly reining in the storied
> profession, eroding unparalleled freedoms born in the days of the Wild
> Reality vs. ‘The Wild Bunch’
> Bounty hunters are hired by bail bond agents to track down and arrest
> who have failed to appear in court as required. They haul in an estimated
> 30,000 bail jumpers every year, earning a typical fee of about 10 percent
> the bail amount.
> The thousands of agents working in business range from private
> and former police officers, to people like Crystal McElroy, a 26-year-old
> mother of three who works as a bounty hunter in Santa Fe, N.M.
> The profession has long been a fixture of the American imagination,
> in movies such as The Wild Bunch, Midnight Run, and even Star Wars. But the
> reality is usually not very glamorous, those in the industry say.
> Bounty hunters spend days tracking down and staking out their prey.
> Professionals admit chases and high drama are rare, and many seasoned
> say they often just call the police when they've tracked down a
> dangerous fugitive.
> Only a few hundred agents around the country are able to support themselves
> as full-time bounty hunters, experts say.
> "It's a tough business," said Wells. "I recommend to people — and I always
> have — don't quit your day job."
> The ‘Rambo Approach’
> Most bounty hunters are responsible professionals, but traditionally,
> virtually anyone could enter the field, and under a Supreme Court decision
> 1872, they have enjoyed police-like powers. It's the freedom and the racy
> image that have attracted some of the wrong sorts of people.
> "There's a lot of people who take the 'Rambo' approach," admits Dennis
> Bartlett, the executive director of the American Bail Coalition.
> Something like that apparently is what happened in Virginia.
> A bounty hunter named James Dickerson allegedly went to the wrong home on
> Christmas Eve while pursuing a fugitive. Dickerson and another man broke
> the door, dragged a man outside and killed him, police said.
> Dickerson had a criminal record; his alleged victim, Roberto Martinez, did
> In Virginia, as has been the case in many states, virtually anyone can work
> as a bounty hunter, without obtaining a license or undergoing a background
> check. Horror stories like the Martinez case are not new.
> Earlier this year, two bail bondsmen in Fairfax, Va., were arrested after
> allegedly taking money from a couple they had recaptured after posting bond
> for them, police there reported.
> In Houston last month, Thang Quoc Le pleaded not guilty to hiring a bounty
> hunter to kill a man who had been seeing his wife.
> Last June, a 23-year-old man died after struggling with three bounty
> in Kansas City. One of the men was charged with involuntary manslaughter
> pleaded not guilty.
> Breaking Down the Door to Your Home — Legally
> The extensive power granted to bounty hunters stems from an 1872 U.S.
> Court decision, Taylor vs.Taintor. The high court ruled that a bail bond
> agent or bounty hunter can pursue bail jumpers across state lines, break
> their homes, and arrest him or her at anytime.
> These cases and others have highlighted the unusual police-like power and
> latitude given to bounty hunters.
> Last year, the Ohio Supreme Court granted bounty hunter Michael Kole a new
> trial, on the grounds that he had the legal authority to arrest a defendant
> "at any time or place." Kole had been convicted of abduction and burglary
> after he and a partner had entered a fugitive's home and held the man at
> With Little Success Curtailing Their Power…
> Lawmakers have repeatedly tried to curtail bounty hunters' powers,
> without success.
> Efforts were jumpstarted in 1997, after a young couple was killed in their
> Phoenix, Ariz., home by men who claimed to be bounty hunters. The case
> prompted Arizona to pass a law requiring bounty hunters to be licensed and
> obtain permission before entering a home.
> Similar cases have periodically renewed interest in cracking down on the
> profession in other states, but bounty hunters have fiercely fought such
> Bartlett and other bounty hunter advocates insist it would be impossible to
> do the job without the power to make arrests and enter home without
> "If you don't have some sort of coercive authority you're never going to
> the guy up," said Wells.
> Bounty hunters insist they are performing an important public function. The
> bail system helps combat jail overcrowding, they argue. Police are rarely
> interested in pursuing bail jumpers charged with relatively minor offenses,
> so the job is left to skip tracers, industry officials say.
> …States Cracks Down on the ‘Scumbag Element’
> Instead of drastically limiting bounty hunters' capabilities, many states
> have imposed restrictions on who can become a bail enforcement agent, as
> those in the industry prefer to be called.
> California, for example, passed legislation in 2000 requiring
> bail-enforcement agent to receive about two weeks of training and undergo a
> background check for felony convictions.
> The various state restrictions create a tangle of confusion for those in
> business, though. In Texas, bounty hunters cannot carry fire arms, for
> example, but in California they can. In some states they cannot carry a
> and wear identifying clothing, but in others they are required to do so.
> "There's so much gray area. Even the cops don't know what we can or can't
> do," complains Wells.
> For many in the industry, some restrictions such as criminal background
> checks are welcome.
> "What it's done is sort of driven the scumbag element out of the picture,"
> says Bartlett, the executive director of the American Bail Coalition.