HD13 - HJR 201 Final Report - Study of Bail Bondsmen and Bounty Hunters
During the 2002 Session of the Virginia General Assembly, Delegate Kenneth R. Melvin introduced HJR 201, (*2) which directed the Crime Commission to study certain issues pertaining to bail bondsmen and bounty hunters. During 2003, the Virginia State Crime Commission continued the study by conducting extensive research on the specific regulation and oversight of bail bondsmen and bounty hunters in all 50 states. In addition to examining statutory schemes for regulation, this research also included contacting state and local officials from all 50 states. Finally, a Bail Bondsmen Advisory Committee was formed by the Crime Commission to analyze the data compiled and to examine the various statutory schemes used by other states for regulating bail bondsmen, regulating bounty hunters and utilizing percentage bond. As a result of this effort, the Advisory Committee crafted recommendations regarding the regulation and oversight of bondsmen and bounty hunters and submitted the recommendations to the Crime Commission at the December 3, 2003 meeting. The Commission adopted the majority of the Advisory Committee recommendations and they are included in House Bill 1057 and Senate Bill 334. (*3) Both bills passed the Senate and House chambers with few amendments and await the Governor's signature. (*4)
Recommendations for Bail Bondsmen
In the 2003 Session of the General Assembly, Virginia initiated introductory steps to begin regulating bail bondsmen (House Bill 1905). These steps included providing for state and federal criminal background checks and formulating legislative requirements that enabled the creation of a bondsman-specific exam for licensure in 2003 and new proof of collateral to the court. (*5) Based on the 2003 study research, the Commission further recommended the adoption of certain additional statutory changes to regarding the future long-term oversight of bail bondsmen. These recommendations were converted into legislation which was House Bill 1057 introduced by Delegate Kenneth Melvin. (*6)
The General Assembly should create statutory provisions to establish eligibility criteria for bail bondsmen, standards of conduct for bail bondsmen, standards for business practices for bail bondsmen, and provide for long term agency oversight and licensing of both property and surety bail bondsmen by the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS).
The following persons should be statutorily prohibited from eligibility as bail bondsmen:
- Felons (current law);
- Any judicial officer, including clerks and employees;
- Regional jail employees;
- Police and Sheriff's Department employees;
- Conservators of the Peace;
- Commonwealth Attorneys;
- Employees of the Department of Probation and Parole, Department of Corrections, DCJS, or Community Corrections Services; and,
- Spouses or persons residing in same household of persons falling into the above categories (excluding felons).
DCJS shall have the authority to revoke, suspend or terminate the licensed bail bondsman if engaged in:
- Fraud or misrepresentation where any person relies on word of bondsmen;
- Soliciting sex during bail bond related activity;
- Exhibiting dishonesty, incompetence, coercion, bad faith and extortion in bail bond related activity;
- Coercing, threatening, or suggesting a bailee or prospective bailee to commit any crime; or,
- Materially breaching professional conduct or ethics.
Bail bondsmen shall not give or receive gifts from government officials engaged in the administration of justice when gifts total more than $50 annually or are for the solicitation of business.
No bail bondsmen shall physically solicit business by initiating contact in a courthouse, jail, lock-up or surrounding government property.
Bail bondsmen shall be prohibited from loitering in jails or magistrate's offices unless conducting legitimate businesses.
Only a licensed bail bondsman can solicit for the business of bail bonding in the Commonwealth.
DCJS shall annually provide to each jail a master list of bondsmen and office locations (monthly updates will be available on-line and by phone).
When recovering bailee, a bail bondsman shall have both a copy of the relevant recognizance and written authorization from a bondsman.
Bail bondsmen shall verbally notify occupants prior to entering residential structure.
Bail bondsmen shall, absent exigent circumstances, give 24 hours prior notice to local law enforcement of their intent to apprehend a fugitive bailee.
Licensed bail bondsmen shall not violate Virginia law in the apprehension of a bailee.
If a bail bondsman chooses to carry a firearm in the course of his duty, he must complete the DCJS firearms training course, renew firearms licensure each year, and notify DCJS if his firearm is discharged in the course of his duties.
Bail bondsmen shall be prohibited from wearing, carrying or displaying uniforms, badges, etc., that gives the impression they are government agents.
Bail bondsmen shall only display identification issued or approved by DCJS.
Bail bondsmen shall be required to comply with the bail bonding business standards listed below, which DCJS shall have the authority to revoke, suspend or terminate if violated:
- Qualifying Powers of Attorney filed with court and each recognizance on all bonds shall contain name, contact information and the registered agent of issuing company;
- Collateral shall be returned upon final termination of liability of the bond, and a detailed receipt shall be given for all collateral;
- Collateral shall be kept in fiduciary capacity, no commingling;
- Copies of pertinent paperwork shall be kept for three years;
- Incorrect or misleading information shall not be submitted to DCJS;
- Cheating on the bail bondsmen exam;
- Client referrals to attorneys shall not be allowed for consideration;
- An attorney shall not act as a bail bondsman in a case where he has a financial or legal relationship; and,
- When a firearm is discharged in the course of his duty, the bail bondsman shall notify DCJS.
Bondsmen regulations shall not apply to a person who does not receive profit or consideration.
Unlicensed practice of bail bonding shall be a Class 1 Misdemeanor offense.
Bail bondsmen oversight is transferred to DCJS effective October 1, 2005.
Bail bondsman licenses shall be effective for two years and renewed every two years.
Recommendations for Bounty Hunters
Bounty Hunters are agents of a Bail Bondsman whose job it is to recover a fugitive. Since bounty hunters are currently authorized, but not regulated by the Code of Virginia, (*7) and because research has shown that bounty hunters play an important role assuring the appearance of defendants at trial and returning fugitives to justice, the Virginia State Crime Commission recommended the adoption of certain statutory changes that will ensure there are regulations governing the licensure and activities of bounty hunters in Virginia. These recommendations were converted into legislation that was Senate Bill 334 introduced by Senator Kenneth Stolle. (*8)
The General Assembly should create statutory provisions that define bounty hunters, establish criteria for bounty hunter eligibility, establish regulations concerning conduct of bounty hunters, and provide for long-term agency oversight and licensing of bounty hunters by the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS).
Bounty hunters shall be referred to, and defined as, bail enforcement agents.
Bail enforcement agents are defined as persons engaged in the business of bail recovery.
Bail recovery means an act whereby a person arrests a bailee, or investigates, surveils, or locates a bailee in preparation for an imminent arrest, with the object of surrendering the bailee to the appropriate court, jail, or police department. This definition shall not apply to licensed bail bondsmen.
Bail bondsmen shall be excluded from the definition of bail enforcement agents.
Bail enforcement agents shall be licensed by DCJS effective October 1,2005.
Bail enforcement agent licenses shall be effective for 2 years and renewed every 2 years.
Engaging in the business of bail recovery without a license shall be a Class 1 Misdemeanor offense.
The following persons should be statutorily prohibited from being a bail
- Persons under 21 years of age;
- Persons convicted of any felony offense;
- Persons without high school diploma or OED; and,
- Persons convicted of certain misdemeanor offenses including moral turpitude offenses (such as cheating, and stealing), possessing burglary tools, brandishing a firearm, stalking; and persons who are the subject of a current protective order.
When recovering a bailee, bail enforcement agents should have both a copy of the recognizance form and written authorization from the bail bondsman.
Bail enforcement agents shall verbally notify occupants prior to entering a residential structure.
Bail enforcement agents shall, absent exigent circumstances, give 24 hours prior notice to local law enforcement of the intent to apprehend a fugitive bailee.
Bail enforcement agents shall be prohibited from wearing, carrying or displaying uniform, badge, etc., that gives the impression they are federal, state or local government agents.
Bail enforcement agents shall only display identification issued or approved by DCJS.
Bail enforcement agents shall have a high school degree or OED.
Bail enforcement agents shall pass a basic certification course offered by DCJS which will include 40 training hours on search, seizure, pursuit, arrest, transportation of bailee, laws in the bail bond business, rights of accused, and ethics.
Bail enforcement agents shall complete eight hours of continuing education prior to renewal.
If a bail enforcement agent chooses to carry a firearm in the course of his duty, he must complete the DCJS firearms training course, renew firearms licensure each year, and notify DCJS if his firearm is discharged in the course of his duties.
A bail enforcement agent may have his license immediately revoked if he carries a firearm during the course of his duties without having the firearms training course approved by DCJS.
Violations of the following standards shall be grounds for disciplinary action by DCJS and forwarded by DCJS to the local Commonwealth Attorney if such a violation could constitute a violation of a criminal statute of the Commonwealth:
- Fraud or willful misrepresentation applying for a bail enforcement license or renewal;
- Impersonating law enforcement;
- Soliciting business for an attorney in return for compensation;
- Not cooperating with a DCJS representative engaged in an official investigation;
- Employing or contracting with any unlicensed person or agency to conduct bail enforcement activities;
- Named in an arrest warrant;
- Subject of a Protective Order; and,
- Receive a bribe or other consideration for not returning a bailee.
Recommendation for Long-term Oversight
After reviewing the regulatory schemes and oversight for bail bondsmen and bounty hunters throughout the 50 States and evaluating the current oversight authority of the State Corporation Commission (SCC) and the Circuit Courts of Virginia, the Advisory Committee on Bail Bondsmen and the Virginia State Crime Commission recommended that the oversight of bail bondsmen and bail enforcement agents be given to the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS).
The General Assembly should create statutory provisions which provide for long-term agency oversight and licensing of property and surety bail bondsmen and bail enforcement agents by the DCJS. DCJS oversight of bail bondsmen shall be effective July 1, 2005 and oversight of bail enforcement agents effective October 1,2005.
Recommendation for Percentage Bond
Through staff research of statutes and rules of court for those states that allow for percentage bond payment, and through interviews with clerks of court, magistrates and judges throughout the Commonwealth, the Crime Commission has determined that the implementation of a percentage bond system would be burdensome on the courts and likely increase the rates at which defendants released before trial fail to appear in court. Therefore, the Virginia State Crime Commission decided that a preferable and effective regulation of bail bondsmen was a better alternative to creating a percentage bond system within the Commonwealth.
(*2) House Joint Resolution 201, 2002 General Assembly, Reg. Sess., (Va. 2002). See attachment A.
(*3) House Bill 1057, 2004 General Assembly. Reg. Sess., (Va. 2004) as introduced. See attachment B. Senate Bill 334, 2004 General Assembly. Reg. Sess.• (Va. 2004) as introduced. See attachment C.
(*4) House Bill 1057. 2004 General Assembly, Reg. Sess.• (Va. 2004) as enrolled. See attachment D. Senate Bill 334,2004 General Assembly. Reg. Sess.• (Va. 2004) as enrolled. See attachment E.
(*5) House Bill 1905. 2003 General Assembly, Reg. Sess., (Va. 2003). See attachment F.
(*6) House Bill 1057. supra note 3.
(*7) §19.2-149 (providing that a surety "or his authorized agent" may deliver the defendant to the sheriff or the jailer in the county where the defendant was to appear). See attachment G.
(*8) Senate Bill 334, supra note 3.