Monday, June 23, 2008

Bounty Hunters

Last week I took in a new civil case relating to bounty hunters. This case flows from a criminal case that I disposed of last week (getting my client out of jail and taking care of a simple possession and resisting arrest charge, together with two failure to appears). Basically, what happened in this case is that the client moved from Tennessee to Mississippi while the underlying possession and resisting charges, together with a couple others that were dismissed, were pending and for one reason or another didn't come back to Tennessee for his court dates. The Tennessee court ordered bond forfeited and issued a capias for his arrest.

Flash forward a few months and bounty hunters, agents of the Tennessee bondsman, kicked open the door to his Mississippi apartment, pointed a shotgun at his head and dragged him to a car for the trip back to Tennessee. Mississippi law permits a bondsman licensed in Mississippi to make an arrest, but it doesn't appear that the bondsman here was licensed in Mississippi. Mississippi law doesn't provide for bounty hunters, but does permit the "agent" of a bondsman to make the arrest. Mississippi does have a statutory process for arresting fugitives on out of state warrants but that procedure was not followed here.

Tennessee law permits bounty hunters. But before a bounty hunter can make an arrest, he must first provide local law enforcement with copies of certain paperwork. Even if Tennessee law applied to this case, they failed to provide the paperwork.

It also appears that one of the "agents" effecting the arrest "was just released from jail." There is a prohibition in Mississippi for anyone being a bondsman (and presumably a bondsman's agent) if he has been convicted of a felony. Tennessee prohibits anyone convicted of a felony from being a bounty hunter.

In investigating the filing of this case, I found it amazing the latitude that is given to bounty hunters and bondsmen to make arrests. We should keep in mind that bondsmen or bounty hunters are not police. They have little, or no, training in how to make safe arrests. They aren't bound by niceties like probable cause, etc. The proscription regarding felony convictions appears to be often overlooked.

It will be interesting to play this one out. There are some very real damages here, to property as well as to my client's business and reputation. I sent a letter to the bondsman today inquiring as to the possibility of settling, but figure that this one is headed to the Middle District of Tennessee.


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