State v. Diaz (HSC October 18, 2012)
Background. Atmarama Diaz was on bail in Hawai'i for felony charges. The circuit court amended the terms of his bail so he could go to California and meet obligations about a pending case over there. At the Honolulu Airport he was arrested for promoting a detrimental drug in the third degree, a misdemeanor. HRS § 712-1249. He posted $1,000 cash bail that day and caught a later flight to California, where he was put in custody pursuant to the terms of that case.
Diaz's arraignment for the airport case was before the district court. He did not show up and the district court issued a bench warrant and forfeited the $1,000 bail. He was also charged with criminal contempt of court. HRS § 710-1077. Bail in that case was set at $150. Diaz's lawyer appeared at a later hearing, waived his physical presence, and pleaded not guilty in both cases. Diaz argued that he could not appear at the initial arraignment because he was in custody in California and could not appear at this hearing because he could not make the necessary travel arrangements to go to Hawai'i. Diaz also--at the suggestion of the district court--filed a motion for reinstatement of bail.
Diaz appeared in person for trial. The prosecution requested a continuance because witnesses were not present. The district court dismissed the case. Later, there was a hearing on the motion to set aside the forfeiture. Diaz argued that the bail should be set aside because he was incarcerated in California and could not appear in Hawai'i. The district court denied the motion. The district court noted that Diaz failed to abide by the terms and conditions of the release stemming from the airport arrest because he left the islands. Diaz appealed. The ICA dismissed the case on the grounds that a bail forfeiture judgment was never entered. Once the district court entered the judgment, Diaz again appealed to the ICA. This time, the ICA affirmed the denial of the motion to reinstated bail. Diaz petitioned for certiorari.
The Bail Forfeiture Should have been set Aside Upon Proof of Incarceration. The primary purpose of bail "is not to punish a defendant or surety, nor to increase the revenue of the State, but rather to honor the presumption of innocence" by permitting "a defendant to prepare his case, and to ensure the defendant's presence in the pending proceeding." State v. Camara, 81 Hawai'i 324, 330, 916 P.2d 1225, 1231 (1996). The forfeiture of a bail bond will be set aside when "uncontrollable circumstances prevented appearance pursuant to the stipulations in the bond, or that the default of the principal was excusable." Id. In other words, a party may set aside the forfeiture if there is a showing that "the party did not break his or her recognizance intentionally, with the design of evading justice, or without a sufficient cause or reasonable excuse, such was unavoidable accident or inevitable necessity preventing his or her appearance." Id.Here, the HSC held that Diaz's incarceration in California was an uncontrollable circumstance that justified setting aside the forfeiture. The district court's failure to set aside the forfeiture was nothing more than a sanction against Diaz--which is not the purpose of bail in the first place. Camara, supra.