North Carolina bail bond legislation is being updated by House Bill 641, effective on October 1, 2015. One of the key alterations expands the definition of hiding from bail bond agents.If you’re new to the blog, please visit this blog post which describes how the bail system works. As you can see, to forfeit bail money is to relinquish it permanently to the courts. Usually, bail is forfeited upon a failure to appear in court. What you might not know is that there are several additional ways that defendants may forfeit bail.
First, consider North Carolina’s new definition of ‘hiding’ from bail bond agents and the courts. Not only must defendants appear in court on the day specified, but they must also stay in communication with their bail bond agent as specified in a signed agreement.
Here is the actual law, with the new wording underlined:
“The defendant may be surrendered without the return of premium for the bond if … the defendant … physically hides from the surety. This includes noncompliance with any signed, written agreement between the defendant and the surety outlining requirements for communications with the surety.”
The “surety” mentioned is a bail bond agent. In a nutshell, skipping a court date and failing to communicate with a bond agent as promised are both legitimate causes for bail forfeiture.
For example, let’s say Alan* signs a contract with his bail bondsman to get out of jail until the trial. In this contract, Alan agrees to respond to any phone calls from his bondsman within a 48-hour period. A few days later, his agent calls, but Alan is away from his phone. The bondsman leaves a message to which Alan decides not to respond within the 48-hour window. Under North Carolina law, Alan has now put himself at risk of forfeiting his bail and being re-arrested.
Presumably, this clarification to the law makes bond agents’ job easier. It facilitates a better understanding between the agent and defendant by encouraging them to set forth expectations concerning communication methods and frequency. If a defendant changes his or her phone number right after signing the bond paperwork, for example, it makes communication much more difficult.
The new wording could permit bondsmen to abuse their power by making absurd stipulations regarding communication, such as requiring defendants to call them every day, but in reality agents have nothing to gain from doing so. Tracking down delinquent clients is a strain on resources, so it is doubtful that the law would be used intentionally against defendants. Bear in mind that defendants must give their written consent for any proposed communication plan; if they find it is not acceptable, they have the option to seek a different bond agency instead.
This post is the first of a series of blogs explaining behaviors that may result in bail forfeiture in North Carolina. Next week, we will continue our discussion of ways that defendants may, intentionally or not, forfeit bail.
*Alan is a completely fictional character used to illustrate the law and bears no intentional resemblance to a real person.