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Freelancing for Fugitives

Bounty hunting can be a lucrative career for former law enforcement officers with business sense and street smarts.

March 01, 1996  |  by Cole Morris

Powers Beyond the Law

The authority of a modern-day bounty hunter is immense. In capturing bail-jumpers, they have more authority than any law enforcement officer in the nation. They can enter a house without a warrant, or arrest a bail-jumper in any state and return him to coul1 without the formalities of extradition. Some might say the Constitution has been suspended for them.

The authority of the bounty hunter comes from an old Supreme Court decision. Argued in 1873, Taylor v. Tain­tor defined the common law clout of the bonds-agent: "When bail is given, the principal is regarded as delivered to the custody of his sureties. Their dominion is a continuance of the original imprisonment. When­ ever they choose to do so, they may seize him and deliver him up to their discharge; if it cannot he done at once, they may imprison him until it can be done. They may exercise their rights in person or by agent. They may pursue him to another state may arrest him on the Sabbath; and if necessary, may break and enter his house for that purpose. None is needed."

Established now as the law of the land for more than a century, the powers of arrest and pursuit granted to bail bonds-agents and their designated bounty hunters, has nei­ther been modified nor canceled by the Supreme court.

Targeting the Suspect

The average target of today's bounty hunter is a 27­year-old male with drug charges. This doesn't mean, however, that they don't see a little bit of everything in the business. In a recent incident, bounty hunters went look­ing for a "skip" with $35,000 in outstanding warrants. They stumbled across a major credit card and check fraud opera­tion. Indeed, chasing fugitives can mean anything from pick­ing up a local dope peddler at the comer bar to bringing back a child molester who thought he was safe in the Dominican Republic. There's a lot of business out there.

Take, for example, California's Dennis Badong. He spe­cializes in skips who flee to Asia. One of his greatest projects involved a Nevada doper who thought he was untouchable in his hideout on Luzon in the Philippines. Badong and his brother burst the druggie's bubble when they went in at 2 a.m. with guns ready. They got their man and the fee of $5,000 plus expenses.

In business, time is money. And make no mistake, this is a business. Bob Burton likes to be creative because it saves time. Once he sent a woman in Detroit a letter stating she'd been given presidential amnesty for her crimes. With the let­ter was a round-trip airline ticket to New Orleans. She bought the story and was arrested at the airport. "I made $8,000 and didn't have to leave my living room," he says.

Building Working Relationships

When it comes to working relationships with police agen­cies, bounty hunters seem to get along best with officers on fugitive details-there is, after all, a common mission and common interests.

Some say that bounty hunters often have better resources and information than police for chasing down skippers. But sometimes there are problems. According to Burton, occa­sionally you'll run into an "attitude enforcement officer" who wants to get involved more than is required. He or she will attempt to disrupt the bounty hunter's efforts, and even look for reasons to arrest the hunter. Fortunately, these types are few and far between.

But with all this said, there's a big difference between law enforcement officers and private-sector bounty hunters. In fact, some might say the only things they have in common are handcuffs 'and the jail they book their prisoners in.

"Some say we are to law enforcement what Federal Express is to the post office," Burton says with a smile.

Essentially, bounty hunters have a private contractual right of arrest that is based on the bail-bond contract. It has nothing to do with warrants. The fact of the matter is, the defendant, in taking a bail bond, agrees to being arrested by the bondsman or the bounty hunter. He also waives his rights for extradition and domicile entry.

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