State v. Bonds, No. 14–245.

Docket NºNo. 14–245.
Citation2015 VT 81, 124 A.3d 809
Case DateJune 12, 2015
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Vermont

124 A.3d 809
2015 VT 81

STATE of Vermont
v.
Joseph MOTTOLESE (Allstate Bail Bonds, Appellant).

No. 14–245.

Supreme Court of Vermont.

June 12, 2015.


124 A.3d 810

Alexander Burke, Bennington County Deputy State's Attorney, Bennington, for Plaintiff–Appellee.

James A. Valenteof Costello, Valente & Gentry, P.C., Brattleboro, for Defendant–Appellant Allstate Bail Bonds.

Opinion

SKOGLUND, J.

¶ 1. Appellant Allstate Bail Bonds (“Allstate”) challenges the trial court's decision granting the State's motion for forfeiture

124 A.3d 811

of bond. On appeal, Allstate argues that the trial court abused its discretion in declining to reduce the amount of bail forfeiture when Allstate could not produce defendant due to his out-of-state incarceration. We agree that Allstate is entitled to a reduction in bail forfeiture, and therefore reverse.

¶ 2. On June 17, 2013, defendant was arraigned for grand larceny and possession of stolen property. Two days later, the court set bail at $35,000. Defendant posted bail on July 2, 2013 through a bond procured from Allstate. Allstate delivered a surety bond for defendant and signed a “Surety Bond” contract with the State, which provides in relevant part:

In order to secure the defendant's release I/we, the undersigned, do voluntarily agree to act as surety for the defendant and to become firmly bound to the Court to guarantee the appearance of the defendant at all required court proceedings, including execution of sentence. I/We, the undersigned, understand that as surety it is my/our responsibility to know when and where the defendant is to appear.

As a condition of his release, defendant could reside in his home state of New York.

¶ 3. On January 10, 2014, defendant was incarcerated in New York on separate charges. As a result of his incarceration, defendant failed to appear at Bennington Superior Court for final calendar call on February 4, 2014, a required appearance. The next day, the court issued a warrant for defendant's arrest. On March 11, 2014, the State of Vermont filed a motion to forfeit bail due to defendant's failure to appear. See 13 V.S.A. § 7560a(a)(2)(A). A hearing on the motion was held March 25, 2014, but after Allstate suggested it would seek a surety warrant, the court continued the hearing to May. Soon after, Allstate requested a surety warrant, seeking to collect defendant upon release in New York and return him to Vermont. See 13 V.S.A. § 7562. On May 2, 2014, the court denied the request, stating that under State v. Marsh,173 Vt. 531, 789 A.2d 939 (2001)(mem.), the court had no authority to issue a surety warrant when defendant was incarcerated at the time Allstate made its request.

¶ 4. On May 29, 2014, the court held the second hearing on the State's motion to forfeit bail. Again, defendant did not appear due to being incarcerated. Allstate moved for a reduction in forfeiture to an amount consistent with the cost of extradition. See 13 V.S.A. §§ 7560a(d), 7570.1The State contested that a reduction would ignore Allstate's obligation to secure defendant's appearance in court.

¶ 5. On June 17, 2014, the court ordered full forfeiture, finding that defendant's incarceration

124 A.3d 812

did not justify relief from forfeiture. It explained that “[i]f the [c]ourt limited the Surety's obligation to paying for transportation costs, then it would leave the State with the burden of finding Defendants and ensuring they attend court proceedings,” and “doing so would erode the obligations of the Surety.” Allstate appeals the order, requesting return of its forfeited security less the costs of extradition. We reverse the trial court's order because, as we explain below, an examination of the totality of circumstances through factors relevant to forfeiture reveals that denial of a reduction in forfeiture was inappropriate and would not shape the behavior of future bail-bond sureties in a way the Legislature intended.

¶ 6. We review a trial court's decision to forfeit bail for an abuse of discretion. See State v. Brown,2005 VT 104, ¶ 10, 179 Vt. 22, 890 A.2d 79. Abuse of discretion requires a showing that the trial court withheld its discretion entirely or that it was exercised for clearly untenable reasons or to a clearly untenable extent. State v. Hutchins,134 Vt. 441, 443, 365 A.2d 507, 508 (1976). We must also examine the trial court's interpretation of Vermont's bail statutes and correlated case law. On such questions of law, our review is de novo. In re T.S.S.,2015 VT 55, ¶ 15, ––– Vt. ––––, 121 A.3d 1184.

¶ 7. This Court has not squarely addressed whether a bail-bond surety is entitled to relief from full liability where a defendant's appearance is prevented by incarceration in another jurisdiction, so we first look to our existing case law on the general rights and responsibilities of bail-bond sureties, and then to other jurisdictions that have answered this precise question.

¶ 8. We have said that “the sole constitutionally legitimate purpose of monetary conditions of release is to provide ‘additional assurance of the presence of the accused.’ ” State v. Cardinal,147 Vt. 461, 464, 520 A.2d 984, 986 (1986)(quoting Stack v. Boyle,342 U.S. 1, 5, 72 S.Ct. 1, 96 L.Ed. 3 (1951)). Under our policy, forfeiture of bail exists not as a punitive tool, “but rather to assure that the defendant will appear at court when required.” Id.As such, bail may not be forfeited for breach of conditions other than appearance, 13 V.S.A. § 7560a(f), because doing so “transforms monetary bail from a guarantor of appearance into a potentially punitive tool useful in the enforcement of all bail conditions.” Cardinal,147 Vt. at 464, 520 A.2d at 986.

¶ 9. We assign significant importance to the preservation of the right to bail. “The traditional right to freedom before conviction permits the unhampered preparation of a defense, and serves to prevent the infliction of punishment prior to conviction.”Stack,342 U.S. at 4, 72 S.Ct. 1(citing Hudson v. Parker,156 U.S. 277, 285, 15 S.Ct. 450, 39 L.Ed. 424 (1895)). The State should encourage bondspersons to enter into bail contracts to facilitate the release of defendants whose guilt has yet to be determined and to relieve the State of the cost of providing for defendants while in jail. On the other hand, reducing the amount of forfeiture where a bail-bond company has failed to ensure a defendant's appearance could erode sureties' obligations, as was the trial court's concern. Balancing these considerations thus requires weighing the particular facts of each case.

¶ 10. This Court's most factually analogous case to the one at hand is State v. Marsh,173 Vt. 531, 789 A.2d 939. There, the trial court scheduled an emergency appearance on one day's notice, which the defendant missed, and the court issued a warrant for his arrest. Texas authorities

124 A.3d 813

arrested the defendant later that day. In affirming forfeiture of defendant's bail, this Court maintained that defendant's incarceration in Texas did not prevent him from appearing at his hearing in Vermont because he was not arrested until hours after his scheduled hearing. Id.at 533, 789 A.2d at 942.

¶ 11. We distinguished the surety's position in Marshfrom that where a defendant is “prevented from appearing [by an] ‘act of the law.’ ” Id.(quoting Taylor v. Taintor,83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 366, 369, 21 L.Ed. 287 (1872)) (citing United States v. Egan,394 F.2d 262, 265–66 (2d Cir.1968)). But we did not distinguish between an act of law of Vermont and that of another state. Rather, we implied that if the defendant had been incarcerated in Texas prior to his appearance, the bail-bond surety may have been entitled to relief. Id.

¶ 12. It is generally accepted that an act of law of the bailing state that prevents the defendant's appearance entitles the surety to relief from full forfeiture. See, e.g., Taylor,83 U.S. at 369; Commonwealth v. Stuyvesant Ins. Co.,366 Mass. 611, 321 N.E.2d 811, 815–16 (1975); State v. Gonzalez,69 N.J.Super. 283, 174 A.2d 209, 212 (Ct.App.Div.1961). There is disagreement, however, as to whether forfeiture is appropriate where the act of law is of another state. Nearly 150 years ago, in Taylor,the United States Supreme Court held that the bail-bond surety on a Connecticut appearance bond was not relieved of liability when the defendant voluntarily went to New York, from where he was taken and delivered to Maine authorities. 83 U.S. at 372–73. The Court noted that, had the defendant been delivered to the Maine authorities by the State of Connecticut, the surety would have been released. Id.As a strong second ground for its conclusion, the Court emphasized that the bail-bond surety, who retained the authority to control the defendant, negligently allowed him to leave the jurisdiction and place himself beyond its authority. Id.

¶ 13. While thirteen states retain the rule under Taylorthat a bail-bond surety is not entitled to relief from liability where a defendant's appearance is prevented by incarceration in another jurisdiction,2more have rejected it. The legislatures of fifteen states have established explicitly by statute that a bail-bond surety is, or at least may be, entitled to relief from liability where a defendant's appearance is prevented by incarceration in another jurisdiction.3The courts of another seven

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6 practice notes
  • State v. Galanes, No. 14–351.
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • June 12, 2015
    ...regardless of the duration or intimacy of the relationship, and that defendant plainly violated the condition. Context is critical. 124 A.3d 809In 2009, defendant was convicted of aggravated domestic assault, unlawful trespass, engaging in a prohibited act, and violation of an abuse-prevent......
  • State v. Heffernan, No. 16–089
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • May 1, 2017
    ...its discretion entirely or that it was exercised for clearly untenable reasons or to a clearly untenable extent." State v. Mottolese, 2015 VT 81, ¶ 6, 199 Vt. 470, 124 A.3d 809 ; see State v. Schreiner, 2007 VT 138, ¶ 14, 183 Vt. 42, 944 A.2d 250 ("Because a motion to continue must be decid......
  • State v. Heffernan, No. 2016-089
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • December 11, 2017
    ...trial court withheld its discretion entirely or that it was exercised for untenable reasons or to an untenable extent." State v. Mottolese, 2015 VT 81, ¶ 6, 199 Vt. 470, 124 A.3d 809; see State v. Schreiner, 2007 VT 138, ¶ 14, 183 Vt. 42, 944 A.2d 250 ("Because a motion to continue must be ......
  • State v. Heffernan, No. 2016-089
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • December 1, 2017
    ...trial court withheld its discretion entirely or that it was exercised for untenable reasons or to an untenable extent." State v. Mottolese, 2015 VT 81, ¶ 6, 199 Vt. 470, 124 A.3d 809; see State v. Schreiner, 2007 VT 138, ¶ 14, 183 Vt. 42, 944 A.2d 250 ("Because a motion to continue must be ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
6 cases
  • State v. Galanes, No. 14–351.
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • June 12, 2015
    ...regardless of the duration or intimacy of the relationship, and that defendant plainly violated the condition. Context is critical. 124 A.3d 809In 2009, defendant was convicted of aggravated domestic assault, unlawful trespass, engaging in a prohibited act, and violation of an abuse-prevent......
  • State v. Heffernan, No. 16–089
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • May 1, 2017
    ...its discretion entirely or that it was exercised for clearly untenable reasons or to a clearly untenable extent." State v. Mottolese, 2015 VT 81, ¶ 6, 199 Vt. 470, 124 A.3d 809 ; see State v. Schreiner, 2007 VT 138, ¶ 14, 183 Vt. 42, 944 A.2d 250 ("Because a motion to continue must be decid......
  • State v. Heffernan, No. 2016-089
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • December 11, 2017
    ...trial court withheld its discretion entirely or that it was exercised for untenable reasons or to an untenable extent." State v. Mottolese, 2015 VT 81, ¶ 6, 199 Vt. 470, 124 A.3d 809; see State v. Schreiner, 2007 VT 138, ¶ 14, 183 Vt. 42, 944 A.2d 250 ("Because a motion to continue must be ......
  • State v. Heffernan, No. 2016-089
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • December 1, 2017
    ...trial court withheld its discretion entirely or that it was exercised for untenable reasons or to an untenable extent." State v. Mottolese, 2015 VT 81, ¶ 6, 199 Vt. 470, 124 A.3d 809; see State v. Schreiner, 2007 VT 138, ¶ 14, 183 Vt. 42, 944 A.2d 250 ("Because a motion to continue must be ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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