TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Shirley K. Turner which would regulate bounty hunters, and prohibit those with criminal records from acting as bounty hunters, was approved by the Senate today by a vote of 37-0.
“We are not trying to demonize anyone through this bill, but the fact of the matter is that without some sort of State oversight, bounty hunters put themselves and the general public in danger every time they take on a case,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer. “Fugitive recovery has a place, and is necessary to ensure that dangerous criminals are off our streets, but we also need protections in place to ensure that bounty hunters do not trample the rights of innocent individuals when pursuing guilty ones. Bounty hunters need to be under some sort of State regulation to ensure that they operate under the mandate of the law, and not around it.”
Senator Turner’s bill, S-2829, would provide a number of safety and regulatory checks on the bounty hunter profession in New Jersey. Specifically, to conduct business in New Jersey, all fugitive recovery agencies must register with the Superintendent of State Police, and bounty hunters and their employees must all undergo a criminal history background check before they can work in the State. The bill also clarifies that bounty hunters do not get special consideration in regards to the right to carry arms, and must undergo the same process civilians would, and prohibits bounty hunters from operating with any special police powers.
“For many of the people I represent, and in many other urban areas throughout the State, what we’re seeing is the deprivation of basic civil rights, by bounty hunters who do not need to obtain search warrants, wreck people’s property and use unnecessary force, and then through fear, keep the people silent,” said Senator Turner. “This is a problem many suburban residents might not recognize, and does not necessarily apply to every bounty hunter in practice, but right now, we’re giving all of them carte blanche to essentially use terrorist tactics, and in urban New Jersey, they’re doing just that.”
Senator Turner added that bounty hunters traditionally point to a 19th century U.S. Supreme Court decision, Taylor v. Taintor, to grant them certain quasi-governmental powers and privileges, but noted that such powers are not in keeping with today’s world.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous for bounty hunters to defend their profession through any legal precedent,” said Senator Turner. “There is nothing in the law books that allows an untrained, non-deputized agent of private interests to wield concealed weapons, capture criminals, and essentially act like ‘Dirty Harry’ without the police badge. Apparently, though, for everyone’s safety, we need to reiterate that for those who might think otherwise.”
According to Senator Turner, the need for the bill was underscored by a November case in which four agents of Tri-State Fugitive Investigations broke into a house on Passaic Street in Trenton. At the time, the senator argued that this situation was a first-class example of why the power of bounty hunters has to be held in check by State regulation and scrutiny.
“Justice is not served by empowering a bunch of lawless mercenaries to run around with powers and privileges we typically reserve for the police,” said Senator Turner. “The Taylor v. Taintor decision applied to a much different world than we live in now, and we need to update our standards to ensure the safety of the public.”
The bill now heads to the Assembly for concurrence with amendments made on the Senate floor. If approved there, it will then go to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law.