When all is working as it should with respect to a bail bond, a defendant goes through booking, processing and their bail hearing and, assuming that they cannot or choose not to pay the full amount of bail determined by the judge, they enter into a bail bond with a bail bondsman, secure their release and go back home while they prepare for their trial. They show up where and when they are meant to and the bail bond agreement is executed in full without further need for action or payment.
What happens if it doesn’t happen this way?
We talk a lot about the financial and other consequences of someone failing to comply with the bond requirements, and how this is likely to impact them, as well as their friends and family, for a long time. This is intended to be the necessary incentive for someone who would otherwise seek to avoid their day in court.
When a person fails to show up for a court hearing, the first thing that is likely to happen is that the judge will issue a bench warrant for their arrest. Unless the initial charge was very serious, this may not lead to an active police hunt for the defendant, but any interaction with law enforcement (e.g. a speeding ticket) from that point on is going to mean that this warrant shows up and that the person will be arrested on the spot.
But there’s a few people who may not be interested in waiting for the fugitive to happen to cross paths with the police at some future date. Failure to appear at a required court date means that the bail goes into default status, which is the first step towards the bail agent having to pay the full bail amount to the court system. If this happens, they will, in turn, look to be made whole by collecting on collateral that was associated with the bail agreement. While this is intended to technically leave the bail agent without exposure to financial loss, the work involved and the risk associated with the value of the collateral makes this an unappealing option.
More so than the bail agent, the person who has collateral wrapped up in the bail agreement has an interest in not losing the bail money, which is what will irreversibly happen when the bail moves beyond default and into forfeit status (often 90 days after default).
The rights of a bail bondsman to arrest
The bail bondsman will generally seek to detain (“arrest”) the defendant to avoid this, on behalf of themselves and the person who has collateral at risk. Surprisingly to many people, a bail bondsman, or a hired “fugitive recovery agent”, actually has more arrest rights than most law enforcement. This is because by entering the bail agreement, the defendant gives up certain constitutional rights and permits the bail bondsman to seek and detain them under these conditions.
Of course, this is not a free-for-all. The bail bondsman or bounty hunter must have documentation that the person in question is a fugitive, and a certified copy of the bond contract. They are then able to enter private property without a warrant, and are under no constitutional obligation to provide a Miranda Warning at the time of arrest. There are some requirements and regulations, however, that must be strictly adhered to. While they can enter the home of a fugitive, they must have established without a doubt that the defendant lives there. They do not have the right to enter the homes of friends or family members seeking the fugitive.
Returning to the beginning
In most cases, fugitives comply with a bail bondsman (or bounty hunter) when caught, and if they are returned to police custody within the grace period allowed by the court, the bond will be released and no forfeiture will occur.
And of course, the fugitive is unlikely to get the chance to do it again, since release will not be an option with most judges with such a history.