Following a fatal shooting in Eastern Idaho of a man wanted for contempt of court in Ada County last Saturday by a bondsman/bounty hunter, the GUARDIAN began a search for authority, law, policy, and common practices of bail bondsmen (and women).
We have sought information from sheriffs, deputy Attorney General, prosecutors, a District Court administrator, the Idaho Supreme Court, and the Idaho Department of Insurance. We have had varying degrees of response, but frankly no one has been knowledgable of just how much power a bondsman wields–or does NOT wield.
The most common “authority” claimed by bondsmen is a U.S. Supreme court case from 1873 which dealt with a three state issue when a man free on bail failed to appear because he was in jail in another state.
Bondsmen are licensed in Idaho by the Insurance Department and most of the Idaho law on bondsmen deals with licensing, consumer affairs of collateral, and procedures to refund or forfeit bail to either the agent or the defendant. There is a section about delivering the bailee to a sheriff or court, but at this writing we cannot find authority to arrest, shoot, search, or enter a premise.
Philip Clay was shot and killed by at least one of four men who were attempting to arrest him based on a bench warrant. Warrants are issued by courts and are served by “peace officers”– who are police, sheriff’s deputies and a few other specific officers in Idaho. The incident at Ammon has been described as an “attempt to serve a warrant,” but there were no law enforcement officers on the scene at the time of the shooting.
Clay had apparently posted bail bond through an insurance company (usually 10% premium) which guarantees the court the defendant will appear. The bail was for $100,000 in connection with drug charges. When bondsman need extra muscle, they contract with bounty hunters who often wear badges, SWAT-type gear, and brandish titles like “fugitive recovery agent,” and carry papers appearing to be warrants or other official documents.
Simply put, they are like automobile repo agents. It’s about the money at risk if the person or vehicle is left on the loose.
The unidentified bondsman/bounty hunter said Clay had a gun, but news reports are sketchy at best and repeated calls to the Bonneville Sheriff have not been returned. There are no special provisions regarding weapons carried by bondsmen or bounty hunters.
Idaho Code does require bondsmen to be responsible for the actions of their agents.
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