Helena, Mont.- Following a string of high-profile crimes committed by bounty hunters in Montana, Commissioner Troy Downing’s legislation to protect Montanans by putting sideboards around fugitive recovery agents is now law.
House Bill 62, carried by Representative Bill Mercer (R-Billings), creates standards and qualifications for bounty hunters requiring them to license as surety insurance producers.
“Bounty hunter abuses are putting the public at risk. Our agency’s bill puts up sideboards to protect Montanans.” Commissioner Downing continues, “Armed bounty hunters have broad arrest powers. Our bill ensures bounty hunters are not felons, receive training, and alert law enforcement before arresting a fugitive. These are all commonsense requirements.”
The new law requires bondsmen and bounty hunters to:
- be at least 21 years old.
- hold a high school or equivalent diploma.
- complete a basic training course approved by the Commissioner.
- notify law enforcement prior to making an arrest.
- report arrests to the Commissioner’s office.
House Bill 62 clarifies when bondsmen can revoke bail and initiate an arrest. Under the previous law, bondsmen could arrest a defendant if they feel “insecure in accepting liability for the defendant.” In multiple instances investigated by CSI, bad actors in the bail bond industry used this broad arrest authority to coerce defendants to perform tasks, such as helping recover fugitives, or face incarceration. In other cases, bondsmen revoked bail only to post the defendant’s bond again to implement additional fees on the defendant. Now, bondsmen must have probable cause to revoke bail.
“Allowing a defendant who is out on bond to be rearrested because the bondsman felt ‘insecure’ is the catalyst to many cases of abuse we saw across our state.” Downing said, “With the exception of exigent circumstances, the standard is now probable cause to arrest a defendant and that arrest must be reported to our agency.”
Commissioner Downing worked closely with industry, law enforcement, and stakeholders to craft this legislation. Following multiple meetings with bail bondsmen, CSI made numerous amendments to House Bill 62 that ensured public safety without upending this important part of the criminal justice system.
“The vast majority of industry follow the rules.” Downing goes on to say, “I appreciate the bail bond industry’s willingness to sit down with our agency to discuss what was working and what was not. The broad support this bill received from both sides of the aisle is a testament to the collaborative approach this agency takes when proposing legislation and crafting good policy.”
Troy Downing is the Commissioner of Securities and Insurance, Montana State Auditor. Commissioner Downing is a two-tour combat veteran, businessman, and entrepreneur.
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