During the past two weeks, the California Court of Appeal for the Fifth Appellate District handed down two decisions on the forfeiture of bail bonds.
On March 21, 2012, the court in People v. International Fidelity Insurance Company directed the trial court to vacate the forfeiture of a surety’s $65,000 bail bond. The Court of Appeal characterized bail bonds as a contract between the government and the surety. In this case, the government failed to provide the additional security on which the surety relied when the surety posted the $65,000 bail bond. As a result, the bond was void and the trial court was in error when it ordered the forfeiture of the bond. The Court of Appeal noted that voiding the bond was consistent with the policy disfavoring forfeitures in general and forfeiture of bail in particular.
On April 2, 2012, the court refused to vacate the forfeiture of the bail bond at issue in People v. Western Insurance Company. Western posted a $50,000 bond to secure the release of a criminal defendant. The trial court declared the bond forfeited when the defendant did not appear at a hearing. Western’s bail agent found the defendant in India. The prosecuting agency advised Western that the government was seeking extradition. Based on these developments, Western filed a motion to vacate the forfeiture of the bond.
Penal Code section 1305(g) provides that where a defendant is not in custody and is beyond the jurisdiction of the state, the court is to vacate the forfeiture of a bond when the prosecuting agency does not seek extradition. The facts of this case did not fit within section 1305(g) because the prosecuting agency was seeking extradition, even though the extradition process was not complete and the defendant was not in custody within the appearance period called for in the bond.
Western argued that, under the doctrine of equitable tolling, the trial court should have tolled the appearance period to allow the extradition process to run its course. The Court of Appeal ruled that equitable tolling was inappropriate because equitable tolling is inconsistent with explicit provision of section 1305(g).