If you have been arrested for a crime, you may be able to get out of custody while your trial is pending by posting bail. This is an amount of money paid to the court, which is meant to give a defendant an incentive to appear when required. Many defendants cannot pay the full amount of bail that a judge sets, so they may need to purchase a bond from a bail bond company. They would pay a non-refundable premium to a bail bond agent in return for the agent depositing the bail amount with the court. Generally, the premium is about 10 percent of the bail.
By depositing the bond, the bail bond agent guarantees that the defendant will appear in court, while the court agrees to release the defendant from custody. If the defendant fails to appear, the bail bond company may lose the full amount of the bond. (The defendant may face an additional charge of bail jumping if they fail to appear.) Bail bond agents thus assume the risk of a defendant’s disappearance. They have the right to track down defendants who fail to appear and take them into custody before the deadline for forfeiting bond expires.
The Consequences of Skipping Bail
A defendant who uses a bail bond agent and skips bail will have both a bounty hunter and the police looking for them.
Actions of Bounty Hunters
Bail bond agents may hire bounty hunters to pursue a defendant and return them to the authorities. Bounty hunters receive a percentage of the bond amount if they are successful in capturing and returning the defendant, but they are not paid anything if they are unsuccessful. Few laws govern qualifications for becoming a bounty hunter. Some basic requirements at the state level may include having a clean criminal record, being at least 18 years old, registering with the police in their area, and submitting character references.
Suing for Injuries
If an individual is injured by a bounty hunter, they may have a personal injury claim against the bounty hunter and the company that hired them.
Similarly, neither the federal government nor most states provide laws that constrain the activities of bounty hunters. Motivated by claiming their fee, a bounty hunter may go too far and cause injuries to the defendant and other people through the use of violence. A victim may be able to sue the bounty hunter for their injuries, and the companies that hire them may be held indirectly liable as well. These claims would fall within the area of personal injury law, and a court could award compensatory damages. A victim might be compensated for medical costs related to their injuries, in addition to the pain and suffering that they endured. (Sometimes a victim is not the defendant who failed to appear but instead an uninvolved bystander.)
Suing a government entity for harm caused by a bounty hunter may be less successful. Courts generally hold that the government is not responsible for the actions of a bounty hunter employed by a private bail bond company. This is because their goal is to prevent the bail bond company from losing its money, rather than helping the prosecution or the courts secure justice. In other words, the government owes no duty toward someone who is injured by the bounty hunter. This contrasts with civil rights claims brought against police officers who cause harm through the use of excessive force, since they are acting with governmental authority.