Armadillo Bail Bonds v. State

Decision Date05 December 1990
Docket NumberNo. 1049-89,1049-89
Citation802 S.W.2d 237
PartiesARMADILLO BAIL BONDS, Appellant, v. The STATE of Texas, Appellee.
CourtTexas Court of Criminal Appeals

G.P. (Pat) Monks, Houston, Randy Adler, Dallas, for appellant.

John Vance, Dist. Atty., and Alec B. Stevenson, III and Michael J. Watts, Asst. Dist. Attys., Dallas, Robert Huttash, State's Atty., Austin, for the State.

Before the court en banc.

OPINION ON APPELLANT'S PETITION FOR DISCRETIONARY REVIEW

CAMPBELL, Judge.

In this criminal bail bond forfeiture case, we granted Armadillo Bail Bonds' petition for discretionary review, pursuant to Texas Rule of Appellate Procedure 200(c)(4), in order to determine whether Article 22.16(c)(2) of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure violates the separation of powers provision of the Texas Constitution. See Tex. Const. art. 2, § 1. Having found the statute unconstitutional, we will affirm the judgment of the court of appeals.

Alejandro de Jesus Carreon, charged in Dallas County with a felony, failed to appear for trial on November 19, 1987. On that date the trial court rendered judgment nisi for the State and against de Jesus Carreon and his surety, Armadillo Bail Bonds, jointly and severally, in the amount of de Jesus Carreon's bond. Nine months later, on August 15, 1988, at a hearing before the trial court, Armadillo was given an opportunity to show good cause for de Jesus Carreon's failure to appear for trial. No such cause was shown, and the judgment of forfeiture was made final the next day. Armadillo then moved for a new trial on the basis of Tex.Code Crim.Pro. art. 22.16(c)(2), which provides that "[a] final judgment may be entered against a bond not earlier than ... 18 months after the date the forfeiture was entered, if the offense for which the bond was given is a felony." Armadillo's motion for new trial was denied, and the Fifth Court of Appeals affirmed on the ground that Article 22.16(c)(2) is invalid under the Texas Constitution's separation of powers provision. Armadillo Bail Bonds v. State, 772 S.W.2d 193 (Tex.App.--Dallas 1989).

In its petition for discretionary review, Armadillo contends that Article 22.16(c)(2) "is a valid enactment of law to regulate the trial court's ... power to grant [a] certain type of relief, a final judgment." Appellant's Brief at 18. Armadillo argues further that the statute is constitutional because it "does not prevent the courts from managing their affairs ...; it only controls the type of relief a court can grant at certain times." Appellant's Brief at 12. The State responds that "[b]y ordering trial courts not to enter bond forfeiture judgments until the expiration of ... eighteen months in a felony case, ..., the legislature is usurping a judicial function. This is certainly violative of [the separation of powers provision] of the Texas Constitution." State's Brief at 7.

A proper understanding of the issue presented requires an examination of the complete text of Article 22.16(a) and (c):

(a) After forfeiture of a bond and before the expiration of the time limits set by Subsection (c) of this article, the court shall, on written motion, remit to the surety the amount of the bond after deducting the costs of court, any reasonable costs to the county for the return of the principal, and the interest accrued on the bond amount ... if:

(1) the principal is incarcerated in the county in which the prosecution is pending;

(2) the principal is incarcerated in another jurisdiction and the incarceration is verified ...;

(3) the principal is released on new bail in the case;

(4) the principal is deceased; or

(5) the case for which bond was given is dismissed.

* * * * * *

(c) A final judgment may be entered against a bond not earlier than:

(1) nine months after the date the forfeiture was entered, if the offense for which the bond was given is a misdemeanor; or

(2) 18 months after the date the forfeiture was entered, if the offense for which the bond was given is a felony.

(Emphasis added.)

It seems probable that Article 22.16(c), enacted in 1987, resulted from our decision in Williams v. State, 707 S.W.2d 40 (Tex.Cr.App.1986). 1 In Williams we held unconstitutional a statute that entitled the surety to an automatic ninety-five percent remittitur if the defendant appeared within two years after a final judgment and the surety claimed responsibility for the return. We concluded that the automatic remittitur provision impermissibly interfered with judicial power by requiring the modification of a final judgment. It appears the Legislature has tried to circumvent the Williams holding by denying the courts the authority to render a final judgment for a set period of time.

Article 2, § 1 of the Texas Constitution provides:

The powers of the Government of the State of Texas shall be divided into three distinct departments, each of which shall be confided to a separate body of magistracy, to wit: Those which are Legislative to one, those which are Executive to another, and those which are Judicial to another; and no person, or collection of persons, being of one of these departments, shall exercise any power properly attached to either of the others, except in the instances herein expressly permitted.

This separation of powers provision reflects a belief on the part of those who drafted and adopted our state constitution that one of the greatest threats to liberty is the accumulation of excessive power in a single branch of government. The provision also has the incidental effect of promoting effective government by assigning functions to the branches that are best suited to discharge them. See H. Bruff, Separation of Powers Under the Texas Constitution, 68 Texas L.Rev. 1337, 1341 (1990).

We have held repeatedly that the separation of powers provision may be violated in either of two ways. First, it is violated when one branch of government assumes, or is delegated, to whatever degree, a power that is more "properly attached" to another branch. Ex parte Giles, 502 S.W.2d 774, 780 (Tex.Cr.App.1973). The provision is also violated when one branch unduly interferes with another branch so that the other branch cannot effectively exercise its constitutionally assigned powers. Rose v. State, 752 S.W.2d 529, 535 (Tex.Cr.App.1987); Meshell v. State, 739 S.W.2d 246, 252 (Tex.Cr.App.1987); see 16 C.J.S. Constitutional Law § 112 (1984). The undue interference test

takes the middle ground between those who would seek rigid compartmentalization and those who would find no separation of powers violation until one branch completely disrupted another branch's ability to function. The rigid compartmentalization theory undermines the efficiency of government and undervalues the availability of checks and balances. The other extreme looks only for the completed coup and underestimates the incremental effect of interbranch intrusions.

N. McCabe, Four Faces of State Constitutional Separation of Powers: Challenges to Speedy Trial and Speedy Disposition Provisions, 62 Temple L.Rev. 177, 218 (1989).

The State argues, and the court of appeals held in effect, that Article 22.16(c)(2) unduly interferes with the courts' exercise of the "judicial" power. Our inquiry must begin, then, with the nature of this power and the extent to which the Legislature may inject itself into this arena.

The Texas Constitution explicitly vests the judicial power of the state in the courts. Tex. Const. art. 5, § 1. The core of this judicial power embraces the power (1) to hear evidence; (2) to decide the issues of fact raised by the pleadings; (3) to decide the relevant questions of law; (4) to enter a final judgment on the facts and the law; and (5) to execute the final judgment or sentence. Kelley v. State, 676 S.W.2d 104, 107 (Tex.Cr.App.1984). On the other hand, the constitution explicitly grants the Legislature ultimate authority over judicial "administration," Tex. Const. art. 5, § 31; Meshell v. State, 739 S.W.2d at 255, although this authority does not permit the Legislature "to infringe upon the substantive power of the Judicial department under the guise of establishing 'rules of court,' thus rendering the separation of powers doctrine meaningless." Meshell v. State, 739 S.W.2d at 255. Given these constitutional provisions, it is no simple task to determine whether any given legislative action that affects the exercise of judicial power is a violation of the separation of powers provision.

Helpful to our inquiry in this case, we believe, is the Montana Supreme Court's decision in Coate v. Omholt, 203 Mont. 488, 662 P.2d 591 (1983). There, the court held unconstitutional, as violations of the separation of powers principle, two Montana statutes that placed time limits on district and supreme court cases and imposed financial sanctions on judges for failure to comply. Although the facts of Omholt are different from those in the case before us today, we believe the reasoning of the decision is instructive and sound:

... We conclude that, based on the separation of powers clause of our state constitution, the question of when cases shall be decided and the manner in which they shall be decided, is a matter solely for the judicial branch of government.

* * * * * *

By [the separation of powers] provision, each branch of government is made equal, coordinate, and independent. B...

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