by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
A unanimous three-judge N.C. Appeals Court panel has ruled that a trial judge could not order forfeiture of $100,000 bond for an illegal immigrant deported by the federal government.
Defendant David Lemus had arranged for the secured bond while jailed on a felony charge in Granville County in 2018. Rather than releasing Lemus after he had the $100,000 secured bond, authorities continued to detain him for the federal government. Immigration authorities took custody of Lemus and deported him to Mexico.
When Lemus failed to show up for his state court appearance, because he had been deported, the trial court forfeited the bond. The bond company appealed.
Judge Richard Dietz explained the ruling against the trial judge:
[U]nder the plain language of the bail statutes, the trial court cannot enter a bond forfeiture unless, once the defendant has satisfied the conditions placed upon his release and there is no other basis in state law to retain custody of the defendant, the State sets the defendant free. This plain reading of the statute also enables the bond forfeiture laws to serve their intended purpose—to ensure that defendants report to court for their scheduled criminal proceedings.
Here, the State knew Lemus would not be at his criminal trial because the State handed him over for deportation. The federal government even offered to coordinate with the State so that Lemus could be returned for trial,but the State declined.
Interpreting the bail statutes to permit forfeiture in these circumstances conflicts with those statutes’ plain language, does nothing to serve their statutory purpose, and ultimately harms undocumented immigrants and their families—some of the poorest, most vulnerable people in our society—for absolutely no reason.
Lemus satisfied the conditions set by the trial court for his release, but he was not released. Instead, the State continued to detain him, despite the bond he posted, until he could be transferred to the custody of federal immigration authorities for deportation. Because the State never released Lemus, the trial court erred by entering a bond forfeiture and further erred by declining to set that forfeiture aside.