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Name: People v. Safety National Causalty Corp.
Case #: S218712
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 02/01/2016
Summary

Trial court properly ordered bail forfeited where defendant was absent from a pretrial proceeding without executing a written waiver of his right to be personally present, as required by former Penal Code section 977, subdivision (b)(1). Bent was charged with felony drunk driving and released on bail after Safety National posted a $25,000 bail bond. Bent did not appear in person at a pretrial hearing. The trial court ordered the bail forfeited, and also denied Safety National’s subsequent motion to vacate the bail forfeiture. Safety National appealed, arguing that the pretrial hearing at which Bent did not appear was not a hearing that “lawfully required” his personal presence. (See Pen. Code, § 1305, subd. (a).) The Court of Appeal agreed and reversed. The Supreme Court granted review. Held: Reversed. Section 1305, subdivision (a) provides in relevant part that bail is forfeited if the defendant fails to appear for “(1) Arraignment, [¶] (2) Trial, [¶] (3) Judgment, [¶] (4) Any other occasion prior to the pronouncement of judgment if the defendant’s presence in court is lawfully required . . . .” Section 977, subdivision (b)(1) provides that the accused shall be present at the arraignment, plea, preliminary hearing, when evidence is taken before the trier of fact, at the time of imposition of sentence, and “at all other proceedings” unless the court grants leave and obtains a waiver. The pretrial hearing here fell into the broad “all other proceedings” category. Safety National argued that only critical hearings should be included within the category of “other proceedings” because critical hearings are the only ones at which defendants have a due process right to be present. The court rejected the argument reasoning, “there is no reciprocal constitutional authority to be absent.” Bent’s absence at the pretrial hearing without leave of court or a sufficient excuse constituted a basis on which to forfeit bail under section 1305. [Editor’s Note: In a footnote, the court noted that, in 2014, “[s]ection 977(b)(1) was amended to state, ‘Except as provided in subdivision (c), . . . the accused shall be personally present . . . ,’ and section 977, subdivision (c)(1) was added to expressly ‘authorize a defendant who does not wish to be personally present for noncritical portions of the trial when no testimonial evidence is taken to submit an oral waiver in open court prior to the proceeding, or submit a written request to the court and would allow the court to grant the request in its discretion.’ (Stats. 2014, ch. 167, italics & underscoring added.)”]

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/S218712.PDF