Bounty hunters, glorified in today’s entertainment media, are depicted as everything from suave agents that take down the bad guys to bumbling buffoons that happen to slap cuffs on the criminal by the end of the comedy. To the viewer, the name ‘bounty hunter’ may conjure images of cowboy boots, WANTED posters, and quick gun draws.
In North Carolina, there are no “bounty hunters” per se. Individuals who forfeit bail can, however, expect to be chased down by bail bondsmen and their “bail bond runners” to track down defendants who flee court. Let’s take a look at the NC government’s definition of a bail bond runner:
A person employed by a bail bondsman for the purpose of assisting the bail bondsman in presenting the defendant in court when required, assisting in the apprehension and surrender of defendant to the court, keeping the defendant under necessary surveillance, or executing bonds on behalf of the licensed bondsman when the power of attorney has been duly recorded.
Runners can’t already be government officials involved in criminal prosecution. For example, a policeman assisting in the capture of escaped defendants could not also be paid as a runner. Runners aren’t as independent as our stereotypical Hollywood characters, either. They must directly work for only one bail bondsman at a time.
While they are given full powers of arrest for someone who skipped bail, runners cannot use unreasonable force in detaining their targets. For example, they can carry a concealed gun as any citizen with a permit can. But, they can only use that gun in extreme cases of self-defence. No special rules apply to them: they can’t take a gun onto school property and can’t use it to subdue a fleeing suspect.
As noted in a previous blog, they also have restrictions on where they can make arrests. The primary residence of the defendant may be entered without permission if there is good reason to believe the defendant is at home, but a third party residence can only be entered with consent. In addition, many states do not recognize out-of-state licenses, so runners need to be aware of various state laws.
So, while bounty hunters as depicted in popular imagination do not exist in North Carolina, there are a class of trained, hired citizens who work long hours and brave mountains of paperwork to ensure that justice takes its due course