ANNAPOLIS – Bounty hunter Steven Engelman has retrieved bail jumpers accused of everything from theft to murder, but he said he has never had to use his gun to bring his man in.
He did have a man dress up as a funeral director once to tell a bail jumper’s mom that her son had been killed and they needed his last known address.
Engelman himself has posed as a birthday balloon deliveryman, and used a telephone company van to scan for “skips.”
Because he uses his wits, he is not worried about finding himself in a situation like the one in Arizona last year, in which five people who later claimed to be bounty hunters burst into a home, tied up three children and killed two people.
But Engelman, the president of Professional Bail Bonds Inc. in Baltimore, is not so sure about his colleagues in Maryland, which does not currently require bounty hunters to be licensed.
Neither are some lawmakers, who have introduced a bill to define who can be a bounty hunter.
“There is nothing to stop a private individual from going out and apprehending a fugitive from justice. There is no grounds, no bounds,” said Del. Thomas Hutchins, R-Charles, whose bounty-hunter bill will be heard Thursday by the House Judiciary Committee.
Hutchins, a former Maryland State Police trooper, said the proposal is in response to the Arizona case. Under his bill, only a licensed private detective, a bail bondsman or the employee of a bail bondsman could act as a bounty hunter.
The virtually unlimited powers that bounty hunters now enjoy were defined in an 1872 Supreme Court decision. In Taylor vs. Taintor, the court said a bounty hunter may pursue a fugitive, “into another state, may arrest him on the Sabbath and if necessary may break and enter his house for that purpose.”
Suzanne Smith, legislative coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union in Maryland, said that bounty hunters’ unchecked power has led to abuses in Maryland.
“I think anytime you have people that are allowed to go out with guns and apprehend people, you need regulation,” she said.
But Smith does not think Hutchins’ bill does enough to regulate bounty hunters.
Private detectives must have five years of police experience before they can be licensed in Maryland and bail bondsmen need to pass a 96-hour course on insurance issues before being licensed. There are no standards for employees of bail bondsmen, the other group that would qualify as bounty hunters under Hutchins’ bill.
Bail bondsmen contacted for this story agreed that the bill is only a first step and that stricter regulation of bounty hunters is needed.
“There should be a level of training and a level of certification,” said Mel Barth, the executive director of the National Association of Bail Enforcement Agents.
He is both a bail bondsman and a bounty hunter, although he prefers the term bail enforcement agent. His organization offers training programs and a certification process for agents, programs that Barth thinks should be included in any legislation dealing with bounty hunters.
“There should be a standard of training where they can be controlled to a degree,” he said.
Engelman also said the proposed law does not go far enough and he would like to see something like a specific bounty hunter license that requires some sort of schooling.
Paul Burch, owner of Burch Bail Bonds in Capitol Heights, agreed that bounty hunters should have to go to an accredited school.
“I think it could be written better,” Burch said of the current proposal. “They have never come to a bail bondsman to ask for any help.”
Maryland is not alone in trying to pass such legislation.
Congress is considering a bill that would challenge the Taylor vs. Taintor decision and a sheriff in Tennessee has asked the legislature there to require better training and regulation of bounty hunters. Oregon, Kentucky and Illinois have statutes against bail arrest.