Many in the bail bonds industry are happy to start a new year after a difficult 2014. The average bail bondsman faced pressure from things such as a harsh economic climate, increased regulatory scrutiny and unpopular pretrial release programs.
The issues are only compounded when the public and regulators read stories that portray bail bonds in a negative light. In 2014, there were quite a few. Last year headlines included everything from bondsmen changing bail bonds records at the courthouse to multiple instances of bail agents being arrested for improper solicitation. In one of the more shocking stories, a federal judge was removed from the bench by the U.S. Senate because he allegedly increased bail amounts to help a bail bondsman. In return the judge accepted trips, gifts and meals from the bondsman. This past year has given the industry some tough PR challenges to say the least.
Bounty hunters and bail bondsmen have a bad rap: The American Bar Association calls their line of work "tawdry," and Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun declared it "odorous." But bounty hunters have an unlikely ally: Alex Tabarrok, an economist at George Mason University, who argues in The Wilson Quarterlythat bounty hunters are "unsung" heroes of an overbooked justice system.
Bail and bounty hunters have a long history. In medieval England, suspected criminals often had to stew for months until a traveling judge arrived to conduct a trial; in the meantime, the court would release the defendant to a "surety," often a friend or brother, who would guarantee that he would show up in court. "If the accused failed to show," Tabarrok explains, "the surety would take his place and be judged as if he were the offender." Sureties were, unsurprisingly, given broad powers to chase down their charges; today's bounty hunters have inherited them (they can legally break into the houses of their targets, search their property without probable cause, and pursue them across state lines).
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