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Can a Washington court forfeit your bail for missing a court date even if you return to court?

Posted by Brian C. Zuanich | Jun 03, 2019 | 0 Comments

No reasonable (or sane person) would walk into a courthouse, pull out $100,000 from his wallet, leave it on the counter with a note saying: “take it, it's yours.” And then walk away.

Legally speaking, however, that's what Edward Jeglum did in January 2016.

Edward Jeglum makes a big mistake

Well, not exactly, of course. In 2015, the State charged Jeglum with felony stalking and two other misdemeanor offenses. The trial court set bail at $100,000, and Jeglum (unlike many defendants) actually posted $100,000 cash bail. The judge warned Jeglum that failing to appear in court for any future hearings could result in the immediate forfeiture of his bail money.

Jeglum appeared at several future court hearings but failed to appear for his trial readiness hearing in January 2016. Clearly, there was a good reason, right? Jeglum's attorney submitted a letter to the court signed by Jeglum's primary care doctor stating that his client was currently staying in a licensed assisted living home and that travel was not recommended.

That certainly sounded like a good reason for missing court. And it certainly sounded like a good reason notto forfeit Jeglum's cash bail. It would probably would have been—if it were true. Turns out, Jeglum lied. He only came clean after a prosecutor called the supposed number for the nursing facility and the number was actually for a storage company.

The court issued a warrant for Jeglum's arrest but reserved ruling on the State's motion to forfeit bail. Eventually, Jeglum returned to court—unwillingly. A bail bondsmen on his other pending felonies went to Arizona, took him into custody, and surrendered him to the Chelan County jail.

Ultimately, Jeglum pleaded guilty to all charges, but the Court—over the State's objection—gave Jeglum his money back. As the trial court reasoned, the purpose of bail is to ensure a criminal defendant's presence in court, and because Jeglum did return to court—regardless of how or why—then the judge had no discretion and could not forfeit his bail.

Cash bail is different than bond 

Wrong, the Court of Appeals ruled in State v. Jeglum. The purpose of bond (as set forth in RCW 10.19.090, the bail bonds statute) is to ensure a criminal defendant's appearance in court—but this statute does not apply when the defendant himself posts cash bail. Unlike bond--which is normally exonerated when a defendant returns to court--you're not guaranteed your cash bail back.

Another rule governs cash bail—CrR 3.2(o). This rule states—in essence—that a trial can judge can forfeit bail whenever a defendant fails to appear for court or violates any conditions of release.

But that's not all. Nothing in this rule or prior court decisions prevents a judge from forfeiting cash bail evenif a defendant returns to court.

A court is only prohibited from forfeiting cash bail afterthe defendant pleads guilty and is sentenced, assuming(and this a big assumption) that the defendant has complied with all conditions of release before being sentenced. In this case, the court must exonerate (i.e. return) the bail.

But Jeglum did in fact violate his conditions of his cash bail. Not only that, he “perpetrated a fraud on the court” by lying about where he was when he was supposed to be in court.

Therefore, the trial judge had the authority to forfeit Jeglum's bail, and the Court ordered the trial court to exercise its discretion to determine whether—and if so, how much—bail to forfeit.

About the Author

Brian C. Zuanich

I am the managing partner at Zuanich Law. I am a former prosecutor and insurance defense attorney, and have practiced law in state and federal courts for over a decade.

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