Effort Underway to Rein in Out of Control Montana Bounty Hunters
The wild west concept of a bounty hunter is still alive and well in Montana, according to Ole Olson, Chief Legal Counsel for Troy Downing, Montana’s Commissioner of Securities and Insurance.
Olson appeared recently on Talk Back and explained the concept of what is termed a ‘bounty hunter’.
“What those folks do is if you're held on a fairly serious crime, you could be required to pay up from $10,000 to $100,000 to be released,” said Olson. “That's essentially a security to make sure you come back and appear for your court date. Now, the vast majority of people who are arrested and charged with crimes cannot afford anywhere near that kind of money to get out of jail. So they'll essentially get a surety bondsman to come and post that money for them. And then they pay a small portion of that as a premium for what is essentially an insurance policy.”
The bounty hunter concept comes into play when the defendant fails to show up in court or flees the jurisdiction.
“When someone doesn't come back that surety bondsman then becomes in effect a fugitive recovery person or they can hire bounty hunters,” he said. “Montana is somewhat unique in that we don't have many, if any regulations to put controls around how and when bounty hunters can arrest their defendants.”
Olson said such an incident occurred several years ago in Missoula.
“This happened in your town in 2017,” he said. “You might recall there was an incident where a gentleman was out on $1,000 bail. He missed his court date for driving with a suspended license and six fugitive recovery agents broke into his house and arrested him in front of his wife and his four year-old daughter. It was, of course quite controversial. The folks that did that were charged with felonies. And ultimately there was a lawsuit I believe by the ACLU.”
Olson said Commissioner Downing is working with state lawmakers to craft legislation to place more controls on ‘bounty hunters’.
“In Montana, we put bounds on what law enforcement can do when they arrest someone or when they go into a home at night, we put bounds on what a private citizen can do when they arrest someone,” he said. “We put bounds on what merchants can do when they arrest shoplifters, but we've not put any bounds on what bounty hunters can do. And so I think what Commissioner Downing wants to do as we approach this next session is just have a conversation which we've already started with the folks in the in the bail industry and the stakeholders in these communities and say what can we do to put some reasonable bounds around this to make sure that the bail bondsman community can keep doing their business which is a valuable business, but to put it put the brakes on some of these cowboys?”
Olson said bounty hunters have power and authority that goes far beyond what we give to our police officers or other private citizens, so the legislation is necessary.