Two recent decisions by California Courts of Appeal reversed trial court rulings which denied surety company motions to vacate the forfeiture of bail bonds.

People v. International Fidelity Insurance Company was ordered published by the Court of Appeal for the Sixth Appellate District on January 24, 2013.

Saul Contreras was arrested on misdemeanor complaints of driving under the influence. International Fidelity posted bonds for his appearance in court. Contreras’s attorney, Michael Paez, appeared on Contreras’s behalf at arraignments and pretrial conferences. At the pretrial conferences, Paez advised the court that he had lost contact with Contreras and that he suspected Contreras was in Mexico.

The trial ordered the forfeiture of the bonds. International Fidelity filed motions to vacate the forfeiture of the bonds, arguing that Paez was authorized to appear on behalf of Contreras at the court proceedings. The Santa Clara County Counsel opposed the motions, arguing that Paez’s loss of contact with Contreras demonstrated the termination of Paez’s authority to represent Contreras at the proceedings. The trial court denied the motions to vacate the forfeiture of the bail bonds.

The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s denial of the motions. The court pointed to Penal Code section 977, which provides that an attorney may appear on behalf of a defendant in a misdemeanor driving under the influence case unless the court orders the defendant to be at a proceeding. In this case, there was no evidence that the court ordered Contreras to personally appear. The court rejected the argument that Paez’s lose of contact with Contreras removed his authority to represent Contreras; there was no evidence that Paez no longer had Contreras’s authorization to represent Contreras in court.

In the second case, the Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District issued its decision in People v. Western Insurance Company on January 30, 2013.  

Chester Dizon was arrested on a felony complaint. Western Insurance Company posted a bond for Dizon’s appearance in court. After the posting of the bond, the trial court granted Dizon permission to travel to the Philippines and ordered Dizon to appear for trial on the day after his specified return date. Dizon failed to appear for trial. The trial court ordered forfeiture of the bail bond. Western filed a motion to vacate the forfeiture. Western contended that the trial court failed to advise Western of Dizon’s request to travel to the Philippines and argued that “there’s no way our company would have agreed” to it. The trial court denied Western’s motion to vacate the forfeiture of the bail bond.

The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s denial of the motion. The court concluded that Western’s liability under the bail bond agreement was discharged because the court order permitting Dizon to leave the United States materially increased Western’s risk.

The Court of Appeal’s opinion cites the United States Supreme Court’s 1869 decision in Reese v. United States. In the Reese case, the Supreme Court explained that:

there is an implied covenant on the part of the principal with his sureties, when he is admitted to bail, that he will not depart out of this territory without their assent. There is also an implied covenant on the part of the government, when the recognizance of bail is accepted, that it will not in any way interfere with this covenant between them, or impair its obligation, or take any proceedings with the principal which will increase the risks of the sureties, or affect their remedy against him.”

The Court of Appeal noted that over a century later the ruling in the Reese case continues to be valid.