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Newell v. State

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

July 23, 2019

HAROLD NEWELL D/B/A A-ABSOLUTE BAIL BONDING COMPANY APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 01/18/2018

          ATTALA COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. GEORGE M. MITCHELL JR.TRIAL JUDGE

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: CHRISTOPHER EDWARD SMITH

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: JASON L. DAVIS

          BEFORE CARLTON, P.J., GREENLEE AND McCARTY, JJ.

          McCARTY, J.

         ¶1. Although not personally served, a bail bondsman was held liable for a defendant who skipped trial. The surety's former agent was served in his stead. Because the Legislature has expressly excluded this act as a proper form of service, we reverse, render, and remand.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. Weary of a world where suspects in a criminal case would be detained for weeks or months without seeing a magistrate or facing trial, an intrepid and innovative band of thinkers created a guarantee of fair treatment. This is why the Eighth Amendment to the federal Constitution prohibits excessive bail. U.S. Const. amend. VIII.

         ¶3. As explained some years later, "[t]his traditional right to freedom before conviction permits the unhampered preparation of a defense, and serves to prevent the infliction of punishment prior to conviction." Stack v. Boyle, 342 U.S. 1, 4 (1951). Bail was not just quintessentially American but also vital to our system of justice: "Unless this right to bail before trial is preserved, the presumption of innocence, secured only after centuries of struggle, would lose its meaning." Id.

         ¶4. But bail literally comes at a price, so society developed methods of paying for it. "The right to release before trial is conditioned upon the accused's giving adequate assurance that he will stand trial and submit to sentence if found guilty." Id. "Like the ancient practice of securing the oaths of responsible persons to stand as sureties for the accused, the modern practice of requiring a bail bond or the deposit of a sum of money subject to forfeiture serves as additional assurance of the presence of an accused." Id. at 5.

         ¶5. Which brings us to A-Absolute Bonding Company and a bond in Attala County. Antonio Grant had been indicted for armed robbery and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Just as our system is supposed to work, the trial court allowed Mr. Grant bail before trial. A-Absolute Bonds guaranteed Mr. Grant would appear at trial via an appearance bond for $30, 000. The company, owned and operated by Harold Newell, had an agent named Taluna Hunt, and she wrote the bond.

         ¶6. For reasons beyond the reach of this decision, the defendant did not appear for trial. The trial court issued a bench warrant for his arrest. The trial court also issued a judgment nisi[1] against his sureties, namely Newell and Hunt. The trial court found that the $30, 000 bond was forfeited; it also gave the duo ninety days to explain why the judgment "should not be made final." This gave the sureties a time period to cure the failure to appear.

         ¶7. By order of the trial court, the sureties were to be given formal service of process of scire facias-the name for a summons, or "to make known." See generally Miss. Code Ann. ยง 99-5-25 (Rev. 2015) (determining that "[t]he purpose of bail is to guarantee appearance and a bail bond shall not be forfeited for any other reason" and setting out the process outlined above). Service of process is critical in this situation because "[i]f the surety produces the defendant or provides to the court reasonable ...


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