| Bounty Hunters |
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OLR Research Report
The Connecticut General Assembly
OFFICE OF LEGISLATIVE RESEARCH
January 28, 1997 97-R-0128
FROM: Sandra Norman-Eady, Senior Attorney
RE: Bounty Hunters
You wanted to know if the state can license or certify bounty hunters.
The legislature has the authority to license or certify bounty hunters. Bounty hunters are hired by bail bondsmen to find and return bail jumpers (principal to fails to appear in court) to the bondman's jurisdiction. Currently, Connecticut's only attempt to exert some control over bounty hunters appears in a statute that requires bail bondsmen or their agents (bounty hunters) to apply for and receive an arrest warrant before apprehending a principal (the person for whom the bondsman posted bail) they believe intends to abscond.
Bounty hunters' common law authority to operate in this state was set out in two Connecticut Supreme Court cases decided in the early 1800s. The Court did not address the rights of bounty hunters again until 1986. The Court, in all of these cases, recognized the right of bail bondsmen or their agents (bounty hunters) to exercise control over their principal. These rights include the right to seize a principal whenever they choose and present him to the court, imprison him until his court date, pursue a fugitive principal into another state, break into his home, and use any force, even deadly force, if necessary to recapture him. Although bail bondsmen and their agents have virtually unfettered right over their principals, they have no rights over other citizens. Thus, someone other than a principal who is arrested or harmed by a bail bondsman or his agent may seek to have criminal charges brought and bring a civil suit for damages.
BACKGROUND—BAIL BONDSMAN AND BOUNTY HUNTER RELATIONSHIPS
Often criminal defendants who wish to be released from custody prior to trial must post bail. A criminal defendant who cannot make bail usually enlists the aid of a bail bondsman. The bondsman, after receiving collateral from the defendant or his family, posts the bail and guarantees the state that the defendant will appear at subsequent proceedings concerning his case. Once the bail is posted, the defendant is released from jail. If the defendant fails to appear in court as scheduled, the bail bondsman is in jeopardy of losing the money he used to post the bond. In order to ensure that this money is not lost, the bail bondsman hires a bounty hunter to find and return the defendant (principal) to him. The bounty hunter, as an agent of the bondsman, has all of the rights of the bondsman.
BOUNTY HUNTER RIGHTS
Bounty hunters are not regulated by the state. Their rights are the same as those of the bondsmen who hire them. Under common law, bail bondsmen and those working for them could take whatever action necessary to apprehend a bail jumper (principal who fails to appear in court). Connecticut courts still apply the common and the state Supreme Court has stated its reluctance to depart from the law unless directed to do so by the legislature. Bounty hunters' common law authority to operate in Connecticut was established in Parker v. Bidwell, 3 Conn. 84 (1819) and Read v. Case, 4 Conn. 166 (1822). Bounty hunter rights were not addressed by the state Supreme Court again until 1986 when State v. Nugent, 199 Conn. 537, was decided.
Parker v. Bidwell
After his arrest by a bounty hunter, the plaintiff brought an action alleging trespass, assault and battery, and false imprisonment. According to the plaintiff, the bounty hunter had no right to apprehend him because the bail bondsman, who was dead at the time, was no longer obligated to the state for the plaintiff's failure to appear. The trial court instructed the jury accordingly. On appeal, the Supreme Court recognized the right of a bondsman to detain or surrender his principal at the bondsman's pleasure and the right of the bondsman to act personally or through an authorized agent. Finding that death did not release the bondsman of his obligation, the Court held that the bounty hunter acted well within his rights.
Read v. Case
The plaintiff principal in this case secured himself in his home, got a gun, and made it known that he would protect himself. The bail bondsman entered the principal's home after assuring him that he meant him no harm. Later the bondsman struck the principal with a gun and admitted others into the principal's home to arrest him. The trial court directed the jury that it should return a verdict for the principal if it found, among other things, that the bondsman failed to notify the principal of his intention to arrest him and failed to inform him of the authority for the arrest. The jury returned a verdict for the principal. On appeal, the state Supreme Court stated that “the law supposes the principal to be always in the custody of his bail; and if he is not in fact, the bail may take him, when and where he pleases” (Case at 170).
State v. Nugent
The Supreme Court reversed a bounty hunter's kidnaping conviction, stating that the obligation of the bail bondsman and his agent are to guarantee the principal's appearance, using whatever means necessary to fulfill the obligation. The Court held that bondsmen in the United States have extraordinary powers to capture and use force to compel preemptory return of a bail jumper. According to the Court, they may do so not only in the state where the bail was granted, but in other states as well, without resort to public authorities. The right of the bail bondman to apprehend his principal, the Court found, arises from the furnishing of the bail when the principal is deemed delivered to the custody of his bondsman.
LEGISLATURE'S AUTHORITY TO REGULATE BONDSMEN AND BOUNTY HUNTERS
The General Assembly has the authority to change the law on the rights of bail bondsmen and bounty hunters. In fact, the General Assembly did so when it enacted Section 54-65. This section revokes the bondsman's discretion to arrest his principal before he actually misses a court appearance. Under this section, the bail bondsman must apply to the court, produce proof of the bail bond, and produce evidence that the principal intends to take flight before making a pre-flight arrest. Section 54-65 has not been very effective in curtailing the activities of bounty hunters because it establishes a procedure for a situation that does not often occur. Bail bondsmen typically do not hire bounty hunters until a principal has jumped bail by missing a court appearance.
Additionally, the state Supreme Court has invited the General Assembly to change the law. In State v. Nugent, 199 Conn. 549-50 (1986), the Court stated:
As anachronistic as it may seem . . . the common law right of a bail bondsman to pursue
and apprehend his principal . . . is alive and well in Connecticut, unless and until the legislature directly addresses the issue.
Several bills have been proposed this year concerning bounty hunters. And over the past few years proposed bills have been submitted seeking to regulate bounty hunters. The last such bill was proposed in 1994 and referred to the Judiciary Committee. The committee held a public hearing on the bill but took no further action. This bill sought to make it easier for innocent people injured by bail bondsmen or their employees to sue by allowing for attorney's fees and triple damages.
LICENSING OR CERTIFYING BOUNTY HUNTERS
The General Assembly may require bounty hunters to be licensed or certified. The law can require all license applicants to be a minimum age, a state resident, employed by a licensed bondsman, and of high moral standards. The law could also preclude convicted felons from obtaining a license and establish grounds for revocation. The law already requires certain bail bondsmen and private detectives (who perform functions similar to those of bounty hunters) to be licensed by the commissioner of the Department of Public Safety (DPS). At least four states (Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Dakota) currently require bounty hunters to be licensed.
Bail Bondsmen and Private Detective License Requirements
Bail bondsmen who furnish bail in at least five criminal cases per year must be licensed. The license is valid for up to one year, costs $ 100, and is renewable on the same terms as the original. To be eligible for a license, the bondsman must be a resident elector and morally and financially sound. Convicted felons and law enforcement officers or others vested with police powers are not eligible for licensure. The DPS commissioner may suspend or revoke the license if the bondsman fails to pay a forfeited bond or if it appears that (1) his financial responsibility has been substantially impaired, (2) he has been convicted of a felony, or (3) he is engaged in any unlawful activity affecting his fitness to continue in the business (CGS §§ 29-144 to 29-152).
Private detectives must be at least 25 years of age, of good moral character, and have at least five years' experience as a full-time investigator employed by a licensed private detective or local, state, or federal government. People convicted of felonies involving moral turpitude or dishonorably discharged from the military are ineligible for a license (CGS §§ 29-153 and 29-154a).