Indiana Lumbermen's Mut. Ins. Co. v. US

Decision Date25 April 1994
Docket NumberNo. 93-CO-725.,93-CO-725.
Citation640 A.2d 1036
PartiesINDIANA LUMBERMEN'S MUTUAL INSURANCE CO., Appellant, v. UNITED STATES, Appellee.
CourtD.C. Court of Appeals

Alan S. Toppelberg, Washington, DC, for appellant.

G. Michael Lennon, Asst. U.S. Atty., with whom J. Ramsey Johnson, U.S. Atty. at the time the brief was filed, and John R. Fisher, and Thomas J. Tourish, Jr., Asst. U.S. Attys., Washington, DC, were on the brief, for appellee.

Before FERREN*, STEADMAN and SULLIVAN, Associate Judges.

SULLIVAN, Associate Judge:

Appellant, Indiana Lumbermen's Mutual Insurance Company ("Indiana Lumbermen"), appeals from the trial court's order denying without a hearing its motion to set aside a bond forfeiture pursuant to Super.Ct.Crim.R. 116(h)(2). Indiana Lumbermen contends that the trial court abused its discretion in (1) denying its motion to set aside the bond forfeiture on the basis of impossibility of performance and (2) failing to conduct a hearing to ascertain whether the forfeiture should have been set aside. We affirm.

I.

Kenneth Rogers ("Rogers"), a/k/a Barry Winston Amos, was charged with two counts of forgery and uttering in June 1979 and released under a previous bail bond, not at issue in this proceeding. Neither Rogers nor his attorney appeared at his scheduled arraignment on those charges. Consequently, a bench warrant was issued for his arrest, and that first bond was forfeited.

Rogers remained at large for nine years1 until he was apprehended in the District of Columbia in April 1988. Following his rearrest, Rogers appeared before the trial court and entered a plea of not guilty. The trial judge then ordered Rogers held in custody unless a $10,000 bail bond was posted to guarantee his appearance on his scheduled court dates. Indiana Lumbermen posted the $10,000 appearance bond which is now the subject of this appeal.

As a condition of his release on bond, the trial judge ordered Rogers to appear at a status hearing on May 5, 1988. Rogers arrived late for the May 5th hearing. The trial judge warned him about being late, and then, after being advised of the potential penalties for failing to appear, Rogers was once again released and scheduled to appear for a further status hearing on June 2, 1988. Rogers failed to appear for the June 2nd status hearing. His counsel was in attendance, but no representative from Indiana Lumbermen was present. The trial judge therefore issued another bench warrant and ordered that the appearance bond guaranteed by Indiana Lumbermen be forfeited.

On August 4, 1988, Rogers was arrested by Maryland authorities on a charge of Daylight Housebreaking. Upon learning Rogers was in custody in a Baltimore jail, Indiana Lumbermen advised the District of Columbia Superior Court of his whereabouts, placed detainers against him, and offered to pay the expenses of transporting him to the District of Columbia, provided the government would request extradition. Neither the trial court nor the government, however, took action to bring Rogers to the District of Columbia for trial. Subsequently, Rogers was sentenced on August 1, 1989 to a twenty-five year term without parole in the Maryland State Correctional Institution at Hagerstown for Daytime Housebreaking, running from February 21, 1988 to the year 2013.

On February 5, 1993 the Superior Court Criminal Finance Office made demand upon Indiana Lumbermen for the $10,000 bail guaranteed by the bond, due and payable on May 7, 1993. On May 3, 1993, Indiana Lumbermen moved to set aside the bond forfeiture. The trial judge denied that motion in a written opinion dated May 4, 1993.

II.

Super Ct.Crim.R. 116(h) governs the forfeiture of bail bonds. It states, in relevant part, the following:

(1) Declaration. If there is a breach of condition of a bond, the court shall declare a forfeiture of the bail.
(2) Setting aside. The court may direct that a forfeiture be set aside, upon such conditions as the court may impose, if it appears that justice does not require the enforcement of the forfeiture.

"Whether the trial court should set aside a forfeiture of a personal appearance bond is within the trial court's sound discretion, and the trial court's decision will be reversed only upon a showing of abuse of discretion." American Bankers Ins. Co. v. United States, 596 A.2d 598, 601 (D.C.1991) (footnote and citation omitted). In exercising its discretion, the trial court is to weigh a number of factors, including, but not limited to:

the willfulness of the defendant's breach of bond conditions, the participation of the bondsman in rearresting the defendant, and the prejudice suffered by the government by the breach of the bond conditions.

United States v. Nell, 169 U.S.App.D.C. 380, 382, 515 F.2d 1351, 1353 (1975) (footnotes omitted).

This Court does not prescribe the weight to be given to the aforementioned factors. Indeed, the trial judge is free to consider and weigh, as she deems appropriate, any information relevant to the particular case before him or her. However,

when data bearing on relevant factors is proffered, the holding of an evidentiary hearing is essential to an informed exercise of discretion based on "what is right and equitable under the circumstances and the law."

Nell, supra, 169 U.S.App.D.C. at 382-83, 515 F.2d at 1353-54 (footnote omitted). Such an evidentiary hearing enables the trial judge to apprise himself or herself of all the facts and explore them more thoroughly.

This Court recently examined the necessity of holding evidentiary hearings in bond forfeiture cases in Allegheny Mut. Cas. Co. v. United States, 622 A.2d 1099 (D.C.1993). In Allegheny, we considered whether the denial of a request for an evidentiary hearing constituted an abuse of discretion. In that case, a surety filed a motion to set aside the forfeiture of a bail bond and requested a hearing. In its motion, the surety argued that mitigating factors justified the setting aside of the bond forfeiture. In particular, the defendant, who failed to appear on the scheduled sentencing date, had informed the court that she would be unable to appear for sentencing because she was scheduled to have an abortion on that date. She subsequently turned herself in to authorities within five days of the sentencing. As a result, she argued that the government had suffered no prejudice from her failure to appear on the scheduled date. Allegheny, supra, 622 A.2d at 1101. The trial court denied the surety's motion without a hearing. We reversed and remanded the case for an evidentiary hearing on the surety's motion because the surety had proffered specific information to the trial court relevant to the decision of whether to set aside or enforce the bond forfeiture.

As Allegheny makes clear, this Court must first determine whether "data bearing on relevant factors" was proffered by Indiana Lumbermen. A hearing is unnecessary, and indeed a waste of precious judicial resources, if no relevant information is presented to the trial court which justifies the holding of a hearing. In Allegheny, the surety set forth specific facts explaining its failure to get the defendant to court for sentencing on the scheduled date. The information made available to the trial judge related directly to the Nell factors, in particular, the willfulness of defendant's breach of bond conditions and the prejudice to the government. A hearing was necessary, "given the proffer made in the surety's motion, and the absence of necessary facts to enable the trial court to make a proper determination...." Allegheny, supra, 622 A.2d at 1101.

In the present case, on the date of Rogers' status hearing, only his attorney appeared before the trial court; the attorney made no attempt to explain or justify his client's absence. Moreover, the...

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