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Big Louie Bail Bonds, LLC v. State

Court of Appeals of Maryland

October 23, 2013

BIG LOUIE BAIL BONDS, LLC
v.
STATE of Maryland, et al.

Page 388

Erin Murphy and Andrew C. White (Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin & White, PA, Baltimore, MD), on brief, for petitioner.

Beatrice Nunez-Bellamy, Asst. Atty. Gen. (Douglas F. Gansler, Atty. Gen. of Maryland, and Julia Doyle Bernhardt, Asst. Atty. Gen., Baltimore, MD), on brief, for respondents.

Argued before BARBERA, C.J., HARRELL, BATTAGLIA, GREENE, ADKINS, McDONALD, and BELL [*], JJ.

Page 389

BELL, C.J. (Retired).

The issue in these ten consolidated cases is whether a bondsman's bond liability should be discharged when a defendant who has been deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (" I.C.E." ) fails to appear in court for trial. The Circuit Court for Baltimore County, based on the information contained in the defendants' Initial Appearance documents, determined that the posted bail bond is properly forfeited when the bail bondsmen knows, or should know, that a defendant is subject to deportation and, as a result, the defendant is deported and fails to appear for trial.

In 2010 and 2011, in separate cases, the defendants [1] were arrested and detained in the Baltimore County Detention Center. For nine of the ten defendants [2], the Initial Appearance documents, which are prepared by District Court Commissioners and made available to sureties for review before they post bond for a defendant, indicated that the defendants were in the country illegally or had an I.C.E. detainer filed against him.[3] The appellant, Big Louie Bail Bonds, LLC (" Big Louie" ), reviewed the information contained in the defendants' Initial Appearance documents and, acting as surety insurer for Banker's Insurance Company, posted bail bonds for all of the defendants, except for Luis Alonzo Bautista Lopez.[4] By executing the bail bond, the appellant accepted its conditions and terms:

" THE CONDITION OF THIS BOND IS that the Defendant personally appear, as required, in any court in which the charges are pending, or in which a charging document may be filed based on the same acts or transactions, or to which action may be transferred, removed, or, if from the District Court, appealed.
" If, however, the Defendant fails to perform the foregoing condition, this bond shall be forfeited forthwith for payment of the above penalty sum in accordance with law.
" IT IS AGREED AND UNDERSTOOD that this bond shall continue in full force and effect until discharged pursuant of Rule 4-217."

After the bonds were posted, but before the defendants were released from the detention center, the defendants were taken into federal custody by I.C.E. The defendants subsequently failed to appear for trial, as a result of which the trial court

Page 390

forfeited the bail bond in each case.[5] The appellant filed a petition pursuant to Md. Rule 4-217(i)(2),[6] in which it asked the District Court to strike the forfeitures. The appellant argued before that court that the defendants' deportation was " an act of law," that made it impossible for the defendants to appear in court. The District Court disagreed. It denied the petitions, stating that the appellant knew, or should have known, that the defendants were subject to deportation when it posted the bonds.

Page 391

In each of the cases,[7] Big Louie noted an appeal to the Circuit Court for Baltimore County and also filed in that court Amended Petitions to Strike Forfeiture and Release Bond. Attached to nine of the ten amended petitions,[8] albeit not supported by affidavit, was a letter or other document from I.C.E. indicating that each defendant had been deported. [9]

A hearing on seven of the amended petitions [10] was held on February 27, 2012, before Judge Norman. The appellant, citing Professional Bail Bonds, Inc. v. State of Maryland, 185 Md.App. 226, 968 A.2d 1136 (2009), argued that the proper focus in determining whether a bond forfeiture should be stricken is on whether the defendant attempted to flee to avoid prosecution. Since the defendants in the consolidated cases had not fled, but, rather, had been deported, their failure to appear, it submitted, was based on reasonable grounds and, thus, under Md. Rule 4-217(i)(2), the forfeiture of the bonds should be stricken. The appellant rejected the State's argument that the information contained in the Initial Appearance documents put it on notice that the defendants would be deported, and that failure to be guided by that notice prevents its reliance on the defendants' deportation. The appellant, on the contrary, argued that the detainer was no guarantee that a defendant would be deported before his scheduled court appearance and, therefore, it could not have known with any certainty that the defendants would, in fact, be deported.

Although the Circuit Court agreed that a defendant's deportation was not guaranteed whenever there is a detainer, Judge Norman denied the amended petitions. He found that, given the information contained in the Initial Appearance documents, the appellant knew, or should have known, that the defendants were subject to deportation when it posted their bonds. He also disagreed with the appellant's interpretation of Professional Bail Bonds, stating:

" [I]t's not that there's an assurance by the [bondsmen] that the Defendant's not going to flee. Quite the contrary. It is an assurance, a guarantee that the bondsman will produce the Defendant at trial. That's what this Court interprets those cases to mean."

The appellant timely noted appeals in all of these cases to the Court of Special Appeals. That court, pursuant to

Page 392

Md. Rule 8-132,[11] transferred the appeals to this Court. We granted certiorari. Big Louie Bail Bonds, LLC v. State of Maryland, 427 Md. 62, 46 A.3d 404 (2012).

The three remaining appeals were heard by Judge Brobst on June 15, 2012. [12] She, like Judge Norman, denied the amended petitions, finding, based on the information contained in the Initial Appearance documents, that the defendants knew, or should have known, that the defendants were subject to deportation and, therefore, citing Professional Bail Bonds, " assumed the risk that the defendants would not appear for trial" when it posted the bonds. The appellant timely noted appeals to this Court. Treating the notices of appeal as petitions for writs of certiorari, we granted certiorari, Big Louie Bail Bonds, LLC v. State of Maryland, 427 Md. 62, 46 A.3d 404 (2012), and consolidated them with the already pending cases.

A bail bond is " a written obligation of a defendant, with or without a surety or collateral security, conditioned on the appearance of the defendant as required and providing for the payment of a penalty sum according to its terms." Maryland Rule 4-217(b)(2). Its nature and relation to ...


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