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Private Investigator vs Bounty Hunter

People are often confused about what a private investigator does and how that might be different from a bounty hunter. There’s also a difference within each of these designations because not all PIs perform the same function either.

Here is a basic overview of private investigators and bounty hunters, and how to tell the two apart.

What Does a Private Investigator Do?

The glitz and glamor associated with private investigators is mainly something that has originated from pulp detective novels, TV series, and movies.

Private investigators work on behalf of a variety of clients including private individuals, companies, lawyers, and other concerned third parties. They may be hired to look into someone’s background, to find missing heirs, to follow someone to confirm if they’re involved in an extramarital affair or to track down kids in a custody dispute.

They might be hired to track down witnesses for the prosecution in a big case, to find the person responsible for an auto collision who left the scene or causes injuries to another individual. In civil court cases, or just to determine if there’s been any wrongdoing, a PI is a useful hire.

A private investigator may be variously referred to as a PI, snoop, shamus, gumshoe, and other less salubrious terms. Sometimes, they’re called a private detective but that’s not commonplace as the term ‘detective’ is usually reserve for law enforcement and can get confusing.

What Does a Bounty Hunter Do?

Bounty hunters are not private investigators. They usually do not work on the same kinds of cases or perform identical functions. However, some cases do overlap when there are competing agendas, or there are several different parties involved.

A bail bondsman may deal with a bounty hunter to pursue the re-arrest of a suspect after they’ve defaulted on their bail agreement. An arrest warrant will almost certainly be issued by a judge after they missed their hearing after being bailed out. At that point, a bounty hunter is used to locate and detain the suspect, and then to return them to the jail where they’ll likely face additional criminal charges.

A bounty hunter may also sometimes be called a fugitive recovery agent, a bail agent, a bail officer, and a host of other variants. The terminology for their role may change depending on whether they’ve been hired by the courts to track the suspect down or by the bail bondsman.

Is There Any Overlap Between the Two?

There is some degree of potential overlap between a PI and a bounty hunter.

Certainly, they will both talk with witnesses, surveil an area or a person or group of people, use skip tracing methods to locate a current residence, and make contact with the suspect.

Legal Process

A legal process is an act relating to legal action.

With a PI, they might be tracking the person down to serve legal papers to them, such as when someone is being sued.

For bounty hunters, they may be tasked by the criminal court to serve a legal warrant to the person who’s currently a fugitive and detain them according to the details of that warrant.

Serving Double Duty

Also, it’s worth bearing in mind that some PIs are also bounty hunters and licensed to perform both activities. This can keep them busier in their professions.

Are Both Private Investigators and Bounty Hunters Armed?

While both bounty hunters and private investigators may be armed, it’s not always the case. Sometimes, they may use other forms of restraint instead to avoid the potential of using deadly force.

To get permission to carry a gun, a bounty hunter or PI is required to have an appropriate license for their work in that state (where that’s available), and a ‘rider’ that permits their carrying a weapon, along with a CCW permit too.

Out of the two, only a bounty hunter has the power of arrest though.

Different Actions Permitted for Bounty Hunters

When a bounty hunter is acting on behalf of the court and is fully licensed, they have extra rights that regular citizens do not. However, these do not extend to the same as law enforcement officers.

What a bounty hunter can do is enter a property to perform an arrest. To a limited extent, they can apply force to ensure the fugitive is detained and can be moved back to jail.

It might surprise you to learn that when someone is released on bail, they’re still considered to be in custody at that time. Subject to either a belief that they may flee or otherwise violate their bail terms relating to their temporary release, the bounty hunter can arrest them and return them to jail.

It’s useful to understand the differences between a bounty hunter and a private investigator. Usually, the former is a little more on the adventurous side whereas a PI’s role is more researching and following rather than leaping into action!

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