Ellis v. Hunter

Decision Date16 January 2009
Docket NumberNo. 5D08-162.,5D08-162.
Citation3 So.3d 373
PartiesScott ELLIS as Brevard County Clerk of Court, Appellant, v. Jack Watkins HUNTER, et al., Appellees.
CourtFlorida District Court of Appeals

Richard E. Stadler, of Stadler & Harris, P.A., Titusville, for Appellant.

Howard M. Swerbilow of Law Office of Caruso & Swerbilow, P.A., Merritt Island, for Appellee Bernard W. Simpkins.

No Appearance for other Appellees.


This case involves application of section 903.286, Florida Statutes (2007), which provides in pertinent part that the clerk of court is to withhold from the return of a cash bond posted on behalf of a criminal defendant by a person other than a licensed bail bondsman "any unpaid court fees, court costs, and criminal penalties." The issues we must resolve are whether section 903.286 is constitutional and, if so, whether the statute should be interpreted to mean sums owed only in the particular case for which bond was posted or whether it encompasses all of a defendant's cases. These issues come to us via the following certified question posed by the County Court: "Is Florida Statute 903.286 constitutional and if so [what] is the statutory interpretation as to the definition of `any costs and fees.'" We restate the questions as follows to more accurately reflect the specific issues raised:

Does section 903.286 violate the constitutional provisions relating to due process, equal protection, excessive bail, eminent domain, or the single subject rule?

Does section 903.286 apply to any unpaid fees, court costs, and criminal penalties in all of the defendant's criminal cases?

Resolution of these issues does not require a detailed discussion of the underlying facts of the crime the defendant, Jack Hunter, was convicted of committing. Suffice it to say that after Hunter was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, another individual, Bernard Simpkins, who was previously Hunter's father-in-law, posted a cash bond in the amount of $5,000 to secure Hunter's release from jail. The bond form Simpkins signed specifically provided:

1) Section 903.286, Florida Statutes, requires the Clerk of the Court shall withhold from the return of a cash bond posted on behalf of a criminal defendant by a person other than a bail bond agent licensed pursuant to chapter 648 sufficient funds to pay any unpaid court fees, court costs and criminal penalties.

2) A refund will only be made if the cash bond is more than what is owed on ALL of the defendant's cases.

Specifically referenced in the bond is section 903.286, Florida Statutes, which provides:

Notwithstanding the provisions of s. 903.31(2), the clerk of the court shall withhold from the return of a cash bond posted on behalf of a criminal defendant by a person other than a bail bond agent licensed pursuant to chapter 648 sufficient funds to pay any unpaid court fees, court costs, and criminal penalties. In the event that sufficient funds are not available to pay all unpaid court fees, court costs, and criminal penalties, the clerk of the court shall immediately obtain payment from the defendant or enroll the defendant in a payment plan pursuant to s. 28.246.

§ 903.286, Fla. Stat. (2007). The statute was enacted effective July 1, 2005.1

Hunter subsequently entered a plea to the DUI charge, and as part of his sentence the trial court assessed a total of $1,063.88 in fines, court costs, and fees. At the time of this assessment, Hunter had outstanding unpaid fines, costs, and criminal penalties in three other criminal cases totaling $3,936.12.2 Accordingly, the Clerk of Court deducted that sum, along with the $1,063.88 assessed in the instant DUI case, from the cash bond. After all the deductions, there was nothing to remit to Simpkins.

Simpkins filed a motion protesting the Clerk's refusal to return the cash appearance bond and requesting that the Clerk of Court be required to show cause why the bond should not be returned. A hearing was held, and the trial court concluded that section 903.286 is constitutional. The court further held that it only applies to costs, fees, and penalties associated with the case in which the bond was posted to assure the appearance of the defendant. Accordingly, the trial court ordered the Clerk to return to Simpkins any money deducted from the cash bond for unpaid costs, fees, or penalties not directly attributable to the specific case number for which Simpkins had posted the bond and certified to us the question previously quoted as a matter of great public importance.

The Clerk of Court appealed the final judgment, and this court accepted jurisdiction pursuant to Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.160 to answer the certified question posed therein. Because the issues reflected in the rephrased certified questions present purely legal questions that we must resolve, the appropriate standard of review is de novo. See Kephart v. Hadi, 932 So.2d 1086, 1089 (Fla. 2006) ("The interpretation of a statute is a purely legal matter and therefore subject to the de novo standard of review."); Jones v. Mariner Health Care of Deland, Inc., 955 So.2d 43, 46 (Fla. 5th DCA 2007) (matters of statutory interpretation require application of the de novo standard of review); Dep't of Ins. v. Keys Title & Abstract Co., 741 So.2d 599, 601 (Fla. 1st DCA 1999) ("A trial court decision on the constitutionality of a statute is reviewed by the de novo standard, because it presents a pure issue of law. The appellate court is not required to defer to the judgment of the trial court. Although trial court decisions are presumed to be correct, there is also a presumption in the law that a statute is constitutionally valid.").

The Constitutional Challenges

The trial court considered several constitutional challenges to section 903.286 and rejected each. The trial court held that the statute did not violate the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Florida and Federal Constitutions, and further held that it does not allow an unlawful taking of property without just compensation. Simpkins raises other constitutional arguments, contending that the statute violates the single subject rule and allows for excessive bail. The first three constitutional challenges to section 903.286 were previously considered by this court and rejected in Biddle v. Ellis, 976 So.2d 103 (Fla. 5th DCA), review denied, 987 So.2d 79 (Fla.2008).3 Nevertheless, we will briefly discuss the constitutional challenges rejected by this court in Biddle and proceed to our discussion of the others. First, a brief discussion of some very general principles that will guide our analysis is in order.

Our analysis begins with a strong presumption in favor of the validity of legislative enactments. Statutes "should be held constitutional if there is any reasonable theory to that end." Bonvento v. Bd. of Pub. Instruction, 194 So.2d 605, 606 (Fla.1967); see also Sunset Harbour Condo. Ass'n v. Robbins, 914 So.2d 925 (Fla. 2005). The "unconstitutionality must appear beyond all reasonable doubt before [a statute] is condemned." Bonvento, 194 So.2d at 606. In addition, courts will not declare a statute unconstitutional where the statute is capable of being construed in a constitutional manner. Sunset Harbour; Indus. Fire & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Kwechin, 447 So.2d 1337, 1339 (Fla.1983). Accordingly, a party "`who challenges the constitutional validity of a statute bears a heavy burden of establishing its invalidity.'" Dickerson v. State, 783 So.2d 1144, 1146 (Fla. 5th DCA 2001) (quoting Wright v. State, 739 So.2d 1230, 1231 (Fla. 1st DCA 1999)).

Due Process

The basic due process guarantee of the Florida and Federal Constitutions is that "no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law." U.S. Const. amend. XIV; Fla. Const. art. I, § 9. Fundamental to the concept of procedural due process is reasonable notice and opportunity to be heard. See, e.g., Dep't of Law Enforcement v. Real Property, 588 So.2d 957, 960 (Fla.1991) (due process contemplates fair notice and a real opportunity to be heard).

The due process challenge Simpkins raised is based on the argument that he did not receive notice that the bond money would be used to pay all of Hunter's outstanding obligations, nor did he have an opportunity to be heard and challenge the withholding of the return of the cash bail. We believe that this argument has very little merit. The record clearly shows that Simpkins was expressly notified of the provisions of section 903.286 in the bond form he signed. Moreover, the trial court, in rejecting this argument, also found that "[n]otice has been posted at the Brevard County Jail to advise arrested persons and their families about this statute."

In rejecting a similar due process argument based on a statute similar to section 903.286, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin, in State v. Iglesias, 185 Wis.2d 117, 517 N.W.2d 175 (1994), explained that

with respect to providing adequate notice, "a legislature need do nothing more than enact and publish the law, and afford the citizenry a reasonable opportunity to familiarize itself with its terms and to comply.... It is well established that persons owning property within a State are charged with knowledge of relevant statutory provisions affecting the control or disposition of such property."

Id. at 184 (quoting Texaco, Inc. v. Short, 454 U.S. 516, 532, 102 S.Ct. 781, 70 L.Ed.2d 738 (1982)); see also Davis v. State, 928 So.2d 442, 448 (Fla. 5th DCA 2006) (rejecting the argument that the county violated the defendant's due process rights when it failed to give him proper notice of code violations and an opportunity to correct them because "every person is presumed to know the law and ... ignorance of the law is no excuse." (quoting Am. Home Assur. Co. v. Plaza Materials Corp., 908 So.2d 360, 377 (Fla.2005))).

It is clear that section 903.286 does not prevent a person who posts a cash appearance bond from...

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