A bounty hunter is known by several different names: “bail enforcement agent,” “bail enforcer,” “bounty hunter,” “bail recovery agent,” “bail fugitive recovery person,” “fugitive recovery agent (FRA),” “bail agent,” “bail bond investigator,” and “surety investigator.” A private investigator may also be licensed as a bounty hunter. A bounty hunter is paid to apprehend a defendant who has skipped on his or her bail.
A bounty hunter works for a bondsman or the indemnitor (cosigner). The bounty hunter cannot arrest anyone unless the bondsman grants his or her authority to arrest a certain defendant. A bounty hunter does not have police powers – in other words, he or she cannot just arrest anyone with a warrant.
The bounty hunter receives payment for apprehending a defendant who skips on his bail. The bail agent pays the bounty hunter a percentage of the bond that was paid on behalf of the defendant. If the bounty hunter does not apprehend the defendant within the time prescribed by state law, he or she does not get paid.
A bounty hunter does not just travel around looking for the defendant – he or she must use his or her time wisely. Depending on the state the bounty hunter is based in, he or she can have anywhere from a few days to a year to apprehend the defendant. He or she will do a skip trace to try to locate the defendant, and he or she may get other leads from a cosigner or other people who may know where the defendant is hiding. A skip trace involves using records (usually electronic) to find places in which the defendant could be hiding. Once he or she gets a lead, he or she will follow up on it. If he or she cannot find and apprehend the defendant before the time proscribed by statute, he or she does not get paid, and the bail agent must pay the full amount of the bail.
Regardless of whether the bounty hunter is able to carry a weapon depends on the bail laws of the state in which he or she works. A bounty hunter is permitted to cross state lines with the intent to apprehend the defendant and return him or her to the arresting agency without an extradition treaty. Additionally, in most states, he or she does not need a warrant to enter a residence to apprehend the defendant.
A bounty hunter cannot break laws to apprehend a defendant, but has more leniency in his or her actions than a police officer has, because he or she is not a government official. The bounty hunter is a private citizen who is hired by bond agencies. He or she is not permitted to harm the defendant or any innocent people in his apprehension of the defendant.