Interesting piece in the BBC News today, Above the law: US bounty hunters.
Multi-millionaire fugitive rapist Andrew Luster is back in police custody, but he was tracked down by an independent bounty hunter, not the authorities. The bounty hunter in question, Duane "Dog" Chapman, could face charges of kidnapping as he seized his prey in Mexico, where his job is illegal. But in most of the United States, a bounty hunter has more power than a police officer - allowed to break and enter without a warrant, detain a suspect or chase him across the country.
The career has been glamorised in Hollywood films, attacked when hunters make sometimes fatal mistakes and is often misunderstood, according to its practitioners. "Dog" Chapman would be many people's idea of a bounty hunter, given the persona he projects on his website and in interviews. He calls himself "the greatest bounty hunter in the world" and claims more than 6,000 captures, though he says he often does not get paid the full 10%-15% of the bail money promised.
Once asked to find a fugitive, bounty hunters have sweeping powers granted to them in the 19th Century by the US Supreme Court. The 1873 decision declares: "Whenever bondsmen choose to do so, they may seize the defendant and deliver him up in their discharge, and if that cannot be done at once, they may imprison him until it can be done. They may exercise their rights in person or by agent. They may pursue him into another state; may arrest him on the Sabbath; and if necessary, may break and enter his house for that purpose."
Does anyone else find this disturbing? Giving this much power to someone motivated by the cash value of their prey? I grew up in a country where you never saw a gun except on American TV shows, or very occassionally you'd see a rifle in the kind of store that sold wax jackets and Swiss Army knives. The thought of bounty hunters running around with guns is scary.