Difference between Bail Agents and Bounty Hunters

The bail bonds process is a critical part of the criminal justice system throughout the United States. Billions of dollars are transferred and thousands of individuals run businesses that range from struggling to immensely successful. Nearly every prominent town has at least one bail company. It is surprising that such a ubiquitous process is so poorly understood by much of the American public. Many individuals often conflate the roles that bail bondsmen and private investigators working for a fee play in this system. While they both make up the bail bonds system, bail agents and bounty hunters play vastly different roles of varying importance.

The bail process

There are a number of different steps to the bail bonds process. Once an individual is arrested, they are often released on their own recognizance. They are allowed to leave with a citation where they promise to appear in court at a certain time and on a certain date. For any serious potential crimes, individuals are held on bail until the date of their trial. Bail is the amount of money that an individual has to pay which is dependent on the severity of their crimes and the possibility of their flight from justice. Individuals post bail and then have the money returned to them when they arrive for trial. The money is an incentive to attend court on a prescribed court date.

A licensed bail bondsman

The bail dealer is the individual who offer and keep track of bail bonds. They are the business owners who run the bail bonds operations that are often seen near courthouses. A bail dealer has to obtain a complex license in order to sell bail bonds. These licenses are required for a licensed bail bondsman to post bail on behalf of an individual. Licenses often involve years of work and significant costs. Individuals travel to a bail bondsman and pay that bondsman 20% of their overall bail. In many instances, bail bondsmen have to keep a working relationship with a particular court. The relationship means that a bondsman only has to issue a declaration to a court and may not have to actually transfer cash each and every time they help an individual post bail. The duties of a bail agent do not include hunting down criminals or searching for wanted criminals as part of their jobs.

Bounty hunter

The duties of a bail agent are mostly restricted to the bail business itself. The threat of going to jail or ruining a credit record forces many individuals to simply arrive to court. In some cases, individuals jump bail and a bail agent loses their funds to the court. These cases often are written off as losses by bail bond companies. They are a simple cost of doing business and are factored into the rates that bail bond companies charge for their services.

However, in some cases, bail agents decide that they need to find a wanted criminal who has jumped bail and bring them back for trial. There may be a particularly dangerous individual or a massive amount of money that was lost. For these situations, they bring in the help of a bounty hunter. Bounty hunters are paid a fee if they retrieve the wanted criminals whom the bail agent is looking for. They travel the country and use the skills of private investigators for hunting down criminals. The duties of a bounty hunter are restricted solely to this finding and extraction. In many instances, their mere presence and the possibility of being caught by an individual fulfilling the duties of bounty hunter leads an individual to arrive at their court date and face a judge.


Bounty hunters are a key part of the bail bonds system. They help to provide force and a disincentive to cheating the system. However, they are sometimes not used in even egregious acts of bail jumping. Instead, bail agents are much more important. These are the individuals who specifically work for the millions of individuals who go through the bail system and want to do the right thing.