Tuesday, July 21, 2015

People v. American Contractors Indem. Co. (Cal. Ct. App. - July 21, 2015)

People repeatedly complain about cases being resolved on meaningless "technicalities".  Those alleged technicalities often entail critical constitutional liberties, so on the whole, I find such complaints generally overwrought.

Yet here's a case where the critique seems justified.

American Contractors Indemnity Co. posts a $40,000 bond for someone in a criminal case.  Defendant thereafter fails to show up.  There's no dispute that the guy is in the wind and that the surety can't find him.

So the bond gets forfeited, right?


The trial court erroneously entered an order that forfeited the bond one day early.  There's no dispute that this error didn't actually matter; the guy was long gone.  But one day early it was.

The surety eventually filed a motion that opposed the forfeiture on the ground that it was one day early.  The Court of Appeal holds that this motion was timely, even though it wasn't filed within 15 days of the forfeiture, because the surety can file such a motion any time prior to the forfeiture being final (e.g., within 60 days).

Fair enough.  We want to give people time.

So it turns out that the forfeiture was indeed ordered one day early.  And the surety could properly wait a fair piece to object to it.

But, again, it didn't matter.  So surely the county gets to argue that, right?  Harmless error and the like?

Nope.  There's a 90 day time limit on forfeiture orders.  The first order was one day early, so it doesn't count.  And by the time the motion for relief from forfeiture was resolved (e.g., on appeal), 90 days had long since expired.

So now the bond can never been forfeited.  Even though the guy indisputably skipped bail.

That doesn't seem right.

At a minimum, I'd change the statutory scheme.  If, as here, the early forfeiture didn't matter, that seems to me a defense.  Harmless error.

Alternatively, I'd apply tolling.  If, as here, a forfeiture order gets reversed on appeal, I'd extend the 90 day deadline during the period in which the objection to this forfeiture (e.g., the appeal) was pending.  So if, as here, the guy still hadn't shown up for over two years after he skipped out on bail, and the surety still could not find him, that'd be more than enough for me.  Bail forfeited.

How about a suggestion to the Legislature in this regard?  The result here seems manifestly an unjustified windfall to the surety who posted bond for a guy who indisputably skipped bail.