Vanderbilt Law Review

Article Title

Running from the Law: Should Bounty Hunters Be Considered State Actors and thus Subject to Constitutional Restraints?


The issue of bounty hunter misconduct catapulted into the public spotlight in September, 1997, when a team of commando-like criminals who claimed to be searching for a bail-jumper gunned down a Phoenix couple in their own bedroom. Though the perpetrators' story was later uncovered as a hoax, and though the men would likely have been convicted of second-degree murder regardless of their profession, their case and others like it aroused impassioned demands for bounty hunter regulation and, more radically, constitutional restraints on the bail bond industry.

Constitutional protections are applicable only against the government and "state actors." Bounty hunters have long been recognized by the courts as private actors, and thus immune from constitutional restraints. Consequently, while bounty hunters do enjoy police-like powers--courts have held that they may conduct nonconsensual searches and use reasonable force in arresting defendants--they are not restricted in their tactics in the same manner as state agents. Specifically, they are free from the strictures of the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments, as well as the relevant sections of the U.S. Code. Thus, bounty hunters may conduct warrantless searches and arrests and pursue a defendant beyond state lines."