According to The New York Times, 46 states authorize private companies, called bail bondsmen, to contract with jailed criminal defendants unable to post bond. A bondsman pays the defendant's bond in exchange for a fee.
A bondsman will hire a bounty hunter to track down a defendant who has skipped town. Michigan bounty hunters enjoy almost unlimited freedom in their mostly unregulated line of work, although most American bounty hunters struggle to turn their work into full-time employment.
Aspiring Michigan bounty hunters can start their new job quickly and cheaply. The Detroit News analyzed the profession in a 2009 article detailing the total lack of regulations for the industry. Michigan lawmakers have passed no laws governing bounty hunter training or hiring. Even felons can work as bounty hunters in Michigan. An individual simply needs to contact a bail bondsman and negotiate a contract for services.
Bounty hunters work as independent contractors and receive fees from bail bondsmen only for successful searches. The Detroit News reports that bounty hunters typically earn a fee equal to 10 percent of the fugitive's bond. For most charges, the fee would amount to a few hundred dollars. Risk and pay rise together. Fugitives with higher bonds, and thus potentially higher fees for bounty hunters, have been charged with more serious crimes and be more difficult to capture.
Protections for Bounty Hunters
Bounty hunters enjoy wide protection for their activities because of an 1872 decision of the United States Supreme Court. In Taylor v. Taintor, the court ruled that the bail bondsman's control over criminal defendants contracting for such services was an extension of the defendant's original imprisonment. Granting sweeping authority, the court wrote that bondsmen and agents, like bounty hunters, could cross state lines and even break and enter into a fugitive's home.
Liabilities and Potential Costs
Bounty hunters must act carefully to avoid injuring any innocent person. Individuals can sue bounty hunters for personal injuries, property damage and other claims arising from the bounty hunter's actions.
Many bounty hunters struggle financially. The Detroit News surveyed 20 of the 65 names listed on a Michigan bounty hunter directory and found that most of them were no longer in operation or worked other jobs ranging from cook to teacher.