Right now there is some question concerning whether or not one needs to hold a “professional investigator’s license” in order to bounty hunt in Michigan as a result of the newly amended “Professional Investigator Licensure Act” (Michigan Penal Code Section 750.167b).
I’ve read the “Professional Investigator Licensure Act” which went into effect in May of 2008. While the law does not specify “bounty hunters” specifically, it has unquestionably expanded the definition of “private investigator” to now include “professional investigator.”
Within the new broad definition of “professional investigator” falls many types of individuals and, while I am not an attorney or offering legal advice, my personal opinion is that an independent contractor offering bail recovery services most likely fits within the framework of the new definition (I’ve only included the brief but most important section):
(e) “Investigation business” means a business that, for a fee, reward, or other consideration, engages in business or accepts employment to furnish, or subcontracts or agrees to make, or makes an investigation for the purpose of obtaining information with reference to any of the following:
(i) Crimes or wrongs done or threatened against the United States or a state or territory of the United States, or any other person or legal entity.
(ii) The identity, habits, conduct, business, occupation, honesty, integrity, credibility, trustworthiness, efficiency, loyalty, activity, movement, whereabouts, affiliations, associations, transactions, acts, reputation, or character of a person.
Furthermore, because the act specifically excludes licensed Michigan bail agents, one could easily infer that the writers of that law considered the act of fugitive apprehension by a bail bondsmen as an investigation; note that it did not specifically exclude a MI bail agent’s assigns, subcontractors and/or agents… what you and I would refer to as the independent act of bail enforcement or bounty hunting.
My non-attorney interpretation is that you will either need to obtain a “Professional Investigator’s license” from the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth-Commercial Services Licensing or a “Fidelity & Surety Producer license” from the Michigan Office of Financial and Insurance Regulation. To me, absent any language classifying a licensed bail agent’s subcontractor as a bona fide bail agent (and there is no such language in MI PC 167(b)) then it is clear that a bail recovery agent (or whatever other title he or she wants to use) is conducting an investigation into someone else’s whereabouts for a fee, which makes him or her subject to the professional investigator licensure act.
Since this has been a hot topic, I decided to go straight to the source(s) and I am going to concede this much…
If you are in the business of bounty hunting, and not a bonafide employee (per the US Tax Code) of a MI Fidelity & Surety Producer licensee or a licensed Professional Investigator, I feel really badly for you right now.
Just before Christmas in 2008, I called both offices within the Department of Labor and Economic Growth- The Office of Financial and Insurance Regulation (Producer licensing) and the Commercial Services Licensing (Professional Investigator licensing) and spoke to the very highest representative that they would put on the phone to answer questions. I asked the same question of both, “Do I need to be licensed to be a bounty hunter in Michigan.” They both answered yes, without hesitation, but it went downhill quickly from there as I started asking pointed question; I knew it would because I identified the fly in the ointment well before getting involved in this post… I did the research back in July when I was first asked this question by someone who wanted to become a Bail Enforcement Agent in Michigan and mentioned the new verbiage in the law.
My first call was to Alicia (I think that was her name) who identified herself as being the person in charge of the professional investigator licensing section and the administrator of the Professional Investigator Licensure Act. She read me the law- verbatim, until I stopped her and assured her that I had read the law again just moments ago. I told her that I was looking for an official opinion, so I asked her point blank, “Does bounty hunting fall under the classification of an investigation business?” Again, she started reading the definition of “investigation business” from the law until I stopped her. I said, “Can you give me a yes or no answer to the question? Is bounty hunting regulated under the new Professional Investigator Act?” She said, all B.S. aside, “If bounty hunting is an investigation business, then yes.” How’s that for an affirmative non-answer? She added that the only exception would be if I was licensed per PC 167b as per the law. I asked her for clarification on where in PC 167b it defines the term “bail agent” as used in the Professional Investigator Licensure Act? She put me on hold for about 5 minutes and said, that she only handles professional investigators and suggested that I call the Office of Financial and Insurance Regulation.
The call to OFIR ((877) 999-6442) was as equally frustrating… let me condense the substance of the call for you…
OFIR: “You must be a bonafide employee of a licensed fidelity and surety producer to call yourself a bail agent.”
Me: “What about being a bounty hunter?”
OFIR: “Not our department, see the FAQ on our website.”
(I found it at http://www.michigan.gov/dleg/0,1607,7-154-10555_13648-141139–,00.html; the number provided is wrong. The new number is 517-241-9288 and as of this writing the website has been removed)
Me: “What about 167b, as stated in the Professional Investigator Licensure Act?”
OFIR: “Questions concerning the content of the Professional Investigator Licensure Act should be directed to the Commercial Services Licensing division of the DLEG. Would you like their number?”
Me: “No, I’ve already talked to them and they referred me to you for official clarification of what a “bail agent as authorized in 167b” is exactly.”
Loooooooooooong hold time……
OFIR: “Sir the only advice we can give you is to go to the Michigan legislature website and search on the term “bail agent.” Thanks and happy holidays.” Click, then the inevitable dial tone.
Of course I had already searched for the term bail agent in MI code and the only time the phrase is used is in the, say it with me boys and girls… the Professional Investigator Licensure Act.
You see, 167b does not describe the authorization of a bail agent nor does it define bail agent in any capacity; 167b instead defines what those people who are the surety upon a bail bond and his or her “clerks, agents and representatives” may not do:
1. Thou shall not pay potential bribe money.
2. Though shall not be in league with criminal defense attorneys.
3. Thou shall not charge more than 10% of the bail.
4. The jail shall build a list of bondsmen and make it conspicuous for all to see.
5. If you shall then you shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.
However, while this is a fundamental flaw in the Professional Investigator Licensure Act and really reeks of terrible legislation, it does not invalidate the law.
The bottom line is that the only proper course of action, as suggested by a friend, is to request an opinion from the Michigan Attorney General. I’m not an attorney and this is not legal advice but it would be irresponsible of me to tell you that you did not need a license in Michigan, even if a few people on the Internet are claiming otherwise.
Note- This article is part of a series of articles written about Bail Enforcement in Michigan: