Fans across the world were filled with outrage and astonishment as they watched their hero Han Solo get carted off in Boba Fett’s Slave I at the end of The Empire Strikes Back. Who would be so evil as to turn in a hero of the rebellion to the Empire, just to have him frozen in carbonite? What if I told you that Boba Fett may not have been so evil? In fact, Boba Fett may have simply been carrying out a perfectly legitimate aspect of his employment as a bounty hunter.
Bounty Hunting Law
Bounty hunting is a profession which most people are most likely to hear about in movies or T.V.. However, bounty hunting is still a very real profession. The concept of bounty hunting people are familiar with is very different than actual bounty hunting. The idea that someone can abscond with a person after a price is put on his or her head sounds more like kidnapping than bounty hunting. The actual laws that govern bounty hunting in the United States date back well over 100 years. In 1872, the United States Supreme Court decided the case of Taylor v. Taintor. 83 U.S. 366 (1872). As a part of that decision, the Court determined that the person to whom an accused is remanded as part of his or her bail has sweeping rights to the accused. This essentially gave bounty hunters carte blanche to do as they wanted.
Today, those sames laws are not necessarily held as precedent. In fact, as is the case for all bounty hunting laws, each individual state determines the powers and authority a bounty hunter has within its jurisdiction. The common core to all of these laws though, revolves around the idea of bails. Not to be confused with the hay variety, bails are executed in criminal cases when a bail bondsperson or an agent acts as a surety and pledges money or property as a promise for an accused person to appear in court. Typically the accused executes a contract with the bondsperson whereby they are obligated to pay the bondsperson the premium amount on the bond, while in exchange they get the freedom to leave police custody.
Ultimately, the government of any jurisdiction determines when a bond can issue, as well as what the terms are for retrieving someone who jumps on the bond. Not all states require that something be done. In fact, in 2007 four states banned the process for commercial bail bonds altogether (Illinois, Kentucky, Oregon, and Wisconsin). However, it would appear that that same ban did not reach the jurisdiction of the Empire.
Securing the Bounty
In the Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader contacted bounty hunters in an effort to track down Han Solo and the crew of the Millennium Falcon.The likely motivation was to capture those close to Luke Skywalker so the Empire could eventually trap him. Darth Vader goes on to say that he wants the crew captured by any means necessary as long as they’re alive, “no disintegrations.” Contrary to what Bon Jovi would have you believe, not every fugitive is wanted dead or alive. Boba Fett made this distinction clear when he raised his concerns on carbonite freezing to Darth Vader. He made it clear that he could not bring Han Solo back to Jabba the Hutt unless he was alive. Thankfully, this is how actual bounty hunters operate, although the rules governing this can vary.
Although jurisdictions differ on bounty hunting regulations, Connecticut General Statutes Sec. 29-152o-1 is clear on the application process for becoming what the state calls a “bail enforcement agent.” Assuming the Empire has similar regulations, the bounty hunters called by Darth Vader would need a license to enforce the bail laws set by the Empire, within the Empire’s jurisdiction.
Han Solo’s Bail Agreement
The first question is whether or not Han Solo had executed a bail agreement. Without a bail agreement, and without “skipping” on that agreement, then there would be no reason to apprehend Han Solo. It was made clear in A New Hope that Jabba was angered by Han Solo after he jettisoned cargo while his ship was threatened to be boarded by Imperial Authorities. Afterward, Jabba sent “bounty hunters” after him. Eventually, when Han Solo brokered a deal with Jabba to pay him back, plus interest, Jabba agreed to let Han Solo leave on his own recognizance. Ostensibly, Jabba is acting in his capacity as a crime lord, and is using Boba Fett to capture Han Solo so that he can “shake him down” for the money he owes him. Arguably though, if Boba Fett is acting as a government body on Tatooine, then he may have been tracking Han Solo in the capacity of a bail enforcement agent.
Since the Desilijic clan seems to be the only acting authority on Tatooine (other than the Empire), they may be a legitimate government entity, which can set bail. If Han Solo’s actions were viewed as a crime, which I’m sure in Jabba’s eyes they were, then allowing Han Solo to leave and pay him back more money acts as a kind of bail. This makes sense as after Jabba learns that Han Solo joined the Rebel Alliance, he sets another bounty on Han Solo because he has “skipped” on his bail. In this instance, the government entity would set the bail, as well as provide the bond. While this may seem unusual in the United States, the only countries that use a commercial bail bond system are the United States and the Philippines. In a global sense, other countries do not have privatized bail bonds, so Jabba’s issuance of a bond would not be that unusual.
Executing a Bond in a Different Jurisdiction
The problem then arises as to whether or not Boba Fett could have legally gone to Cloud City to apprehend Han Solo. Depending on the laws of Bespin, unless Boba Fett was properly licensed to act as a bail enforcement agent, then his actions would have amounted to criminal abduction. The Virginia Supreme Court recently decided this issue in Collins v. Commonwealth of Virginia, 720 S.E.2d 530 (2012). In that case, a bounty hunter from North Carolina travelled to Virginia to apprehend someone skipping bail. The Court determined that a bail bondsman licensed in another state does not have the authority to apprehend a fugitive bailee in Virginia. Similarly, Boba Fett may not have been licensed to operate in Bespin, and thus was not authorized to apprehend Hans Solo in Cloud City.
However, since Bespin, like Tatooine, is an Outer Rim planet, and the Empire was exerting control over those territories, it serves to reason that if we are assuming Boba Fett is licensed as a bail enforcement agent under the jurisdiction of the Empire, then he legally had the ability to apprehend Han Solo on any of those planets.
At the end of the day, Jabba’s “bounty” on Han Solo may have simply been a crime lord trying to collect the money owed to him. However, if we conclude that Jabba was in fact operating as part of a governmental entity on Tatooine, then Boba Fett may have been justified in bringing the criminal Han Solo to justice. Whether or not we conclude any actions by the Empire to be “just” is an argument for another post.