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District Attorney’s Letter Does Not Substitute for a Court Order (Penal Code Section 1305 and the Law of Bail Forfeitures)

A recent California Appeals Court decision (People v. American Surety Insurance Co.) held that bail was not forfeited when a defendant failed to appear at an arraignment.

courtCalifornia Penal Code Section 1305 provides that a trial court shall not have jurisdiction to declare a bail forfeiture if no complaint is filed within 15 days from the arraignment. In this case, the defendant appeared at his initial arraignment, but the case was not officially called on the court calendar.

The district attorney in charge of the case wrote the defendant a letter, informing him that he would have to appear on the new date. When the defendant failed to appear on the date requested, the trial court ordered that bail be forfeited and contacted the insurer of the bail company.

The California Court of Appeal ruled that a letter from a district attorney is not a substitute for a court order to appear for arraignment. Here, there was no court order continuing the appearance date of the arraignment and the district attorney’s notice to the defendant to appear was not a sufficient substitute. Since the case was not called on the initial date set for arraignment, and there was no jurisdiction on the later arraignment date set by the district attorney (because it was past the 15 days set out in Penal Code Section 1305), the trial court lost the ability to make the defendant forfeit bail.

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