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Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Justin Lamar Culver

June 7, 2012

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
JUSTIN LAMAR CULVER APPEAL OF: JOHN T. ROBINSON, A DULY AUTHORIZED AGENT AND ATTORNEY- IN-FACT OF EVERGREEN NATIONAL
INDEMNITY COMPANY COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
JUSTIN LAMAR CULVER APPEAL OF: JOHN WASCO, A DULY AUTHORIZED AGENT AND ATTORNEY- IN-FACT FOR SENECA INSURANCE COMPANY



Appeal from the Order of October 21, 2010 in the Court of Common Pleas of Pike County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-52-CR-0000119-2007 Appeal from the Order of October 21, 2010 in the Court of Common Pleas of Pike County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-52-CR-0000062-2007

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mundy, J.

J-E02005-12/J-E02006-12

BEFORE: STEVENS, P.J., BENDER, PANELLA, DONOHUE, ALLEN, MUNDY, OLSON, OTT, AND WECHT, JJ.

OPINION BY MUNDY, J.

Appellants, Evergreen National Indemnity Company, through its agent and attorney-in-fact, John T. Robinson (Evergreen), and Seneca Insurance Company, through its agent and attorney-in-fact, John Wasco (Seneca), appeal from the order entered October 21, 2010, denying their respective petitions to set aside or remit forfeiture of Justin Lamar Culver's (Defendant's) bail and release each as surety. We reverse and remand.

Our review of the certified records in these cases reveals the following factual and procedural history. Defendant was charged on February 2, 2007, with one count each of burglary, criminal trespass, criminal mischief, and attempt to commit theft by unlawful taking.*fn1 At Defendant's preliminary arraignment that same day, the Magisterial District Judge conditioned Defendant's release on payment of $25,000.00 bail. On February 9, 2007, Defendant's bail was posted by Seneca as surety. These charges were bound over to the Court of Common Pleas at Docket No. CR-0000062-2007.

On March 26, 2007, Defendant was charged in a new criminal complaint with false imprisonment, terroristic threats, simple assault, and harassment.*fn2 At his preliminary arraignment for these charges, the Magisterial District Judge conditioned Defendant's release on payment of $100,000.00 bail. The charges were bound over to the Court of Common Pleas at Docket No. CR-0000119-2007. On May 7, 2007, Defendant filed a petition for bail reduction. After a hearing, the trial court denied the petition. On June 14, 2007, Evergreen posted Defendant's $100,000.00 bail as surety at Docket No. CR-0000119-2007.

Accordingly, Defendant was released and remained subject to the conditions of bail set at each docket number. On September 10, 2007, Defendant was arrested and charged with second-degree murder, two counts of robbery, burglary, conspiracy to commit robbery, conspiracy to commit burglary, firearms not to be carried without a license, and possession of firearm prohibited, stemming from a home invasion perpetrated on August 24, 2007.*fn3 On September 11, 2007, upon oral motion of the Commonwealth, the trial court revoked Defendant's bail at both Docket No. CR-0000062-2007 and Docket No. CR-0000119-2007. The case at Docket No. CR-0000062-2007, and the case at Docket No. CR- 0000119-2007 were then the subject of numerous continuances.*fn4

Defendant was convicted by a jury of second-degree murder, conspiracy, and the other charges at Docket No. CR-0000298-2007 on March 18, 2009. On March 19, 2009, the trial court granted a Commonwealth motion for forfeiture of Defendant's bail at both Docket No. CR-0000062-2007 and Docket No. CR-0000119-2007. On March 31, 2009, Seneca filed a petition to vacate the bail forfeiture and release surety. Similarly, on April 6, 2009, Evergreen filed a petition to set aside or in the alternative, remit forfeiture and release surety. At a hearing held on May 21, 2009, all parties proposed to submit a stipulation of facts and briefs to the trial court in lieu of testimony and oral arguments. N.T., 5/21/09, at 2- 4. The parties' stipulation was filed on June 22, 2009.*fn5 After reviewing the submissions of the parties, the trial court, by order filed October 21, 2010, denied both sureties' petitions to set aside or remit the respective bail forfeitures.

Evergreen filed a notice of appeal on November 3, 2010, and Seneca filed its notice of appeal on November 5, 2010.*fn6 A panel of this Court reviewed both appeals and determined in each that the trial court had abused its discretion and misinterpreted the law by refusing to set aside the forfeitures and to release the sureties. Thereafter, the Commonwealth filed an application for reargument with this Court. The full Court subsequently granted the Commonwealth's application, and the panel's decisions were withdrawn. The cases were then consolidated for reargument before this Court en banc.

Evergreen raises two questions for our review.

1. Are the 'costs' alleged by the Commonwealth the type of 'costs, inconvenience and prejudice' contemplated by the Superior Court in Commonwealth v. Mayfield, 827 A.2[d] 462 (Pa. Super. 2003) and Commonwealth v. Riley, 946 A.2d 696 (Pa. Super. 2008)?

2. Because the Commonwealth suffered no cognizable 'cost, inconvenience or prejudice' as a result of Defendant's breach of bail bond, is [Evergreen] entitled to have the forfeiture of $100,000.00 bail bond in question set aside?

Evergreen's Refiled Brief at 7.

Seneca poses the issue in the following manner.

Whether the Court erred as a matter of law and abused its discretion in ordering bail forfeiture against Seneca where the Commonwealth did not incur any cost or loss in apprehending [Defendant] or any prejudice in the prosecution of [Defendant] for the underlying offense for which the bail was posted?

Seneca's Supplemental Brief at 4.

The standard and scope of review we employ when reviewing a trial court's grant or denial of bail forfeiture remission is well settled.

The decision to allow or deny a remission of bail forfeiture lies within the sound discretion of the trial court. Accordingly, our review is limited to a determination of whether the court abused its discretion in refusing to vacate the underlying forfeiture order. To establish such an abuse, the aggrieved party must show that the court misapplied the law, exercised manifestly unreasonable judgment, or acted on the basis of bias, partiality, or ill-will to that party's detriment. If a trial court ...


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