Jesus Gonzalez-Lugo was arrested and charged with possessing a narcotic drug for sale and possessing drug paraphernalia. The trial court set an appearance bond of $75,000, which was posted by American Liberty Bail Bonds. Gonzalez-Lugo was deported to Mexico and failed to appear for pretrial conferences and for trial. He was tried in absentia and acquitted on a Rule 20 motion (directed verdict) based on insufficient evidence of identity of the defendant. After a contested bond-forfeiture hearing, the court ordered the entire $75,000 bond forfeited.
The Court of Appeals affirmed, rejecting American Liberty’s argument that the trial court no longer had jurisdiction to forfeit the appearance bond after Gonzalez-Lugo was acquitted. Looking to prior case law, the Court noted that forfeiture proceedings are independent of the underlying criminal proceedings and “are simply a streamlined substitute for a civil suit resulting from a breach of contract,” that is, a contract between the state and the surety. American Liberty’s liability to the state for failing to produce Gonzalez-Lugo for trial did not end when he was acquitted.
The Court also looked to the language of Arizona Rule of Criminal Procedure 7.6(d), which does not require exoneration of an appearance bond at the end of criminal proceedings and thus gives the trial court discretion to determine whether to forfeit a bond based on the circumstances of each particular case. If the rule required exoneration of the bond even though the defendant failed to appear, it would encourage defendants to not appear for trial, hoping to be acquitted for insufficient identification. Forfeiting the bond also compensates the state for wasted resources caused by the defendant’s absence from trial.
Finally, the Court rejected American Liberty’s argument that the bond should not be forfeited because the trial court did not issue an arrest warrant for Gonzalez-Lugo, as is required by Rule 7.6(c) when a defendant violates a condition of an appearance bond. The Court said that the surety must demonstrate prejudice from the court’s failure to issue a warrant, which American Liberty made no effort to do.
Judge Vásquez authored the court’s opinion; Judges Eckerstrom and Kelly concurred.
Posted by: Kathy O'Meara