Bail is a sum of money guaranteed to a court as a way to ensure criminal defendants make their court dates. Courts will often accept bail as an alternative to housing a defendant in jail while they await a hearing. This gives defendants a certain level freedom, while giving courts some assurance that the defendant will appear to face their charges. When a criminal defendant can’t afford to post bail on their own, they turn to a bondsman who guarantees payment of that money to the court in the event the defendant misses their court date.
This creates a win-win situation that saves the judicial system the expense of housing defendants, while allowing people facing criminal charges to be released from police custody while they await their court date. However, if a defendant who is out on bail does not appear in court as ordered, the bail bondsman is then obligated to
pay the cash bond that was guaranteed to the court. To avoid forfeiting the cash bond and taking a loss, the bail bondsman will hire the services of a bounty hunter to locate, apprehend, and return the fugitive. Licensed bounty hunters receive arrest authority through the bail bondsman, which allows them to lawfully arrest the fugitive and receive a percentage of the bond for doing so.
To date, 22 states require bounty hunters to be licensed. Some states, including California, have specific statutes in place that regulate the practice of bounty hunting, but do not require licensure for these professionals. Just 4 states – Oregon, Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Illinois – ban the practice of bounty hunting altogether.
Bounty hunting, now a recognized profession across most of the United States, is typically regulated by the state’s insurance commission. A few states regulate bounty hunters through their department of finance or judicial branch.