A Bounty Hunter and a Bail Agent Are the Same, Right?

Tonya Rynerson and Zeke Unger

You may have heard the term Bail Agent, or have seen the bright neon signs across the street from any city jail. Perhaps you’ve heard of a Fugitive Recovery Person like “Dog the Bounty Hunter” on television? Before I explain what they do, it’s important to know that these two job titles encompass very different duties.

Pictured: Bondsman Tonya Rynerson with Bounty Hunter Zeke Unger

Although Bail Agents, more commonly called a Bondsmen, and Fugitive Recovery Agents work very closely together at times, and are often confused as being one and the same. But by definition, they are very different indeed. In California, you must be licensed and trained specifically for the job of Bail Agent and as such, you can pick up your own “skips” or those who fail to appear in court. So let’s talk a about their big differences in their jobs:

Fugitive Recovery Agents, also known as, “Bounty Hunters” or “Skip Tracers” typically track down criminal defendants who have otherwise “skipped bail.” These defendants have failed to appear in front of a judge for their court dates and must be located. A Fugitive Recovery Agent is provided written authorization pursuant to the laws in their state. They are hired specifically to locate, arrest and detain defendants and are tactically trained in techniques to do so. In many situations, Bounty Hunters must use surprise entry to gain access to a home or dwelling to make an arrest. This can sometimes lead to physical resistance by the defendant, so at times violence may be associated with being a Fugitive Recovery Agent. This is why Fugitive Recovery Agents are asked to train and test with firearms, handcuffs, tasers, mace and other powerful weapons. They may wear ballistic/Kevlar vests for protection during actual arrests. Some Bounty Hunters may have a previous background in law enforcement. It definitely takes “the right stuff” to do this job safely and correctly.

The job of a Licensed Bail Agent also known as, “Bail Bondsman” or “Bail Bond Agent” includes writing contracts, “posting bail” for the release of a defendant from jail and the administration of other important forms. A Bail Bond Agent by definition transacts bail for a fee (in California its 10%) and must be licensed by the state’s department of insurance. They may be familiar with the workings of the local criminal courts and other legal regulations. Upon authorization of the bail bond by a co-signer, (indemnitor), family member or the defendant him/herself, the defendant is released and the bail bond is accepted from the court, in lieu of the entire bail amount. The licensed Bail Agent guarantees to indemnify the surety company (insurance company) for any forfeiture or related costs for the bond should the defendant fail to make their scheduled court appearance. A Licensed Bail Bondsman may go to a jail with bail bond paperwork to release a defendant. However, they typically don’t go out “searching for” and “arresting” a defendant for not showing up for their court appearances. Bail Agents don’t typically have to carry weapons or wear Kevlar vests while administrating bail bonds from their offices. And for some Bail Agents, that may be a huge relief.

The significant difference between the two professions are: Bail Agents are called and work to help things “go smoothly” by insuring the defendant is released from jail when bail is made. Fugitive Recovery Agents are called in when things “don’t go smoothly” and move in to make the arrest and bring the defendant back to jail. Simply put, the bail bondsman gets people out of jail; a bounty hunter puts them back in jail.

Learn more about Los Angeles Bounty Hunting.

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  1. Matt
    March 4, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    Very well put in this article….Hopefully it enlightens a lot of people.

  2. Ambros
    May 7, 2010 at 9:29 am

    Very well put, but I might add…As a bail agent I can pursure my own “skips” or pursue them for other bail agents who do not want to be a part of that side of bail bonds, thereby making me one and the same. Some choose only to pursue one side of bail bonds, some both.

  3. Wayne
    August 29, 2010 at 5:23 am

    a Bail Agent Can Work As a Fugitive Recovery Agent But Thay dont oftent Venture Into Fugitive Recovery Agent Fild becose Most Of Thare Time is Occupided by doing Bail Agent Dutys Witch is Why Fugitive Recovery Agents Are a Bail Agents Best Partner

  4. Jeff
    September 4, 2012 at 6:00 am

    So say a person gets out of jail on bond, doesn’t show up for court and has bail revoked. A bondsman will pay that bail and recover the money from the co-signer? Let’s say the bondsman returnes the criminal, through himself or using a bounty hunter. Is the bond still revokd (due to the courts) or is it released? Will a bondsman assume the financial responsibility to go get the fugitive or will the co-signer be responsible?

    Ill watch Dog the Bounty Hunter and it seems as if they do both. Is that more common? I’m going to take a guess here tell me if this is right. Dog will work as a bondsman, collect 10%, and set up a co-signer. If,the person becoms a fugitive, he will hunt him down. If he brings the guy in, Dog isn’t responsible to pay the bail. I’m guessing he carges a fee from the co-signer to get the fugitive.

    Let’s say a person doesn’t show for court, bail is revoked, and gets picked up by the police the nxt day on a warrent. Does dog pay the bail because he didn’t bring him in?

    Sorry a lot of questions, just interested

    • Tonya Rynerson
      September 4, 2012 at 7:10 am

      Overall, you might be surprised how simple bail is. In terms of someone who doesn’t show up for court, the bond is considered forfeited (revoked) immediately and the warrant is issued.

      The bondsman has six months (in most jurisdictions) to bring in the defendant. “Dog” is a bounty hunter, not a bondsman. The “bounty hunter” gets paid for bringing in the skip — if the defendant gets to jail any other way (turns herself in, gets arrested, etc), the bounty hunter does not get paid, but depending on the contract with the bondsman, they may be reimbursed expenses. Either way, the bond has already been revoked. It can be reinstated by the bondsman, but most often it won’t be. Don’t be fooled by TV. Why is a bondsman going to reinstate a bail on someone they just paid (more than they earned initially) to be put back in jail?

      As long as the defendant is returned within the required time-frame, the bondsman does not pay the court. It doesn’t matter how they get back in custody.

  5. Annette Wilde
    August 3, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    How much does a skip trace and bail bonds recovery agent make? Can you also do Skip Tracing in any state or is it like being a bail bonds man or bounty hunter where you have to do what that state wants you to do?

  6. Nico
    October 5, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    So from what I’m understanding is, a Bail Agent and a Bounty Hunter are virtually one in the same… they’re certified the exact same way and have to take all the same exams.. one just chooses to go one route (bail agent), the other chooses to go the other (as a bounty hunter)? If not, what’s the difference in licensing procedures between bail agents and bounty hunters.. lets say Ohio.

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