A veteran bail industry professional strongly objects to the label, “bounty hunter.” Here’s why:
by Joe Stiles
Recently, the Tennessee legislature passed a bill that was signed into law and scheduled to go into effect on July 1, 2018. The law amends the wording of Tennessee Code Annotated 40-11-318 to require an agent of the Bail to wear clothing with the words “Bounty Hunter” prominently displayed on their clothing.
After posting about this on social media, I received some negative feedback from folks, including some members of my professional community; they could not understand why I was opposed to the bill. After all, many of the agents in the bail and bail enforcement community use this wording when referring to themselves. Why, they wanted to know, would I be against it becoming a part of the code?
The answer is that I find it unprofessional, misleading, and an inaccurate depiction of what we as bail agents and bail enforcement agents really do.
When a person is charged with a crime, they are considered by our justice system to be innocent of that crime until an admission of guilt, or until guilt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. This is the bedrock of our criminal justice system and is imperative to protect the citizen from the state.
To this end, incarceration of an innocent person is detestable to the fair mindedness of an honest and just legal system. However, we cannot be gullible in our thinking that a person charged with a crime will submit themselves to possible punishment by voluntarily appearing in court.
Consequently, they are often admitted to bail, in which a bonding company agrees to produce the defendant on demand or suffer a monetary loss. When a defendant fails to appear, the bail bondsman is ordered to produce the defendant. He is empowered by both statute and common law to do so and may arrest the defendant himself or, by endorsement on the bail piece, authorize another to act on his behalf. (TCA 40-11-133; Tailor vs Taintor; Nichols vs Ingersoll; Poteet vs Olive)
This is not a new process but a continuation of the custody of the bailee by the bail.
This arrangement worked well for many years because the goal was to enforce the contract and produce the defendant. But as the profile of the bail enforcer rose, thanks to movies, reality TV, social media, and opportunity seekers looking to promote books or “schools” (or just the occasional wannabe looking for attention), a romantic figure from the Old West days was resurrected, and the “Bounty Hunter” was reborn.
He is a colorful character, often portrayed as a lone wolf, “Rambo-like” individual who has removed himself from the confining restrictions of the law and due process to hunt down other human beings; this mythical figure cares about nothing other than “getting his man.” This no-nonsense hero will see justice done at any cost. and the evildoer found and punished.
This image was perpetuated, thanks to a poor understanding of the limits of our authority. In this fantasyland of Hollywood-informed public opinion, the Bounty Hunter is often depicted as being detested by conventional law officers and the public alike. His character, as seen on TV, is of questionable ethics and character, and is nearly indistinguishable from the “criminal” he is hunting.
Is it surprising, then, that those of us who are serious about our occupation might resent being forced to wear the words “Bounty Hunter” emblazoned across our chests?
After decades of traveling across America, arresting and transporting fugitives legally and ethically, the legislature has passed a law that forces us to adopt a title that plays to the vigilante, outlaw stereotype. To my mind, it serves no purpose but to further alienate us from the justice system that many of have served for longer than some of those lawmakers have been alive.
Why am I opposed to the words “Bounty Hunter”? Let me simplify things: Imagine if a police officer earned a four-year criminal justice degree, spent months in a police academy, and patrolled for many years, and was then ordered by law to appear in court with the word “Pig” prominently displayed on his uniform.
Imagine an attorney being ordered by law to prominently display the words “Shark” or “Ambulance Chaser” on the back of his suit. Imagine if our esteemed government representatives had to appear in Congress wearing some of the choice pejorative terms their constituents use to refer to them.
They would be outraged, and rightfully so.
Words and titles mean something. They are our way of defining a person’s professional purpose and restricting him to the office and station he holds.
So for now, the title of Bounty Hunter has been resurrected by our esteemed representatives. But I will never refer to myself this way and will continue to roll my eyes at those who do, or those who insist that others do.
About the Author:
Joe Stiles is the owner of Bail Fast Bonding and Black Aces Bail Recovery in Knoxville, TN. With more than 26 years in the bail bond industry, he has worked as an in-house investigator, freelance recovery agent, posting agent, supervising agent, and owner of his own company. He served on the board of directors of the Tennessee Association of Professional Bail Agents and for two years as the chairman of their continuing education and internet committees. He currently serves as parliamentarian for the National Association of Bail Bond Investigators (NABBI).