PEOPLE v. RANGER INSURANCE COMPANY

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Court of Appeal, Sixth District, California.

The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. RANGER INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant and Appellant.

No. H022655.

Decided: March 01, 2002

E. Alan Nunez,Nunez & Bernstein, Fresno, Attorney for Defendant and Appellant. Ann Miller Ravel, County Counsel, Harrison D. Taylor Deputy County Counsel, Attorneys for Plaintiff and Respondent. George W. Kennedy, District Attorney of Santa Clara County, Joseph V. Thibodeaux, Supervising Deputy District Attorney, Neal J. Kimball, Deputy District Attorney, Attorneys for Amicus Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff and Respondent.

Ranger Insurance Company (Ranger) appeals from an order denying its motion to vacate summary judgment and exonerate a bail bond.   On appeal, Ranger argues that the bond was exonerated as a matter of law when the trial court allowed the defendant to remain at liberty on bail after his conviction, without making the findings required by the recent amendments to Penal Code section 1166.1  On November 28, 2001, the Second District Court of Appeal held in People v. Ranger Insurance Co. (2001) 93 Cal.App.4th 1286, 113 Cal.Rptr.2d 759 that newly amended section 1166 does not apply to cases resolved by plea.   Because we agree with that court's reasoning and because the defendant pleaded guilty in this case, we affirm the trial court's order denying the motion to vacate the forfeiture.

FACTS

Ranger posted a $15,000 bond on September 25, 1999, for the release of Omar Blanco Martinez from custody.

On November 5, 1999, Martinez entered a guilty plea, and the case was continued until January 14, 2000, for sentencing.   The trial court allowed defendant to remain free on bail pending sentencing, and it made no findings and took no evidence on public safety, prior criminal record, seriousness of the offense, or probability of flight.

On January 14, 2000, Martinez failed to appeal for sentencing, and the trial court ordered his bail forfeited.   Notice of the order forfeiting bail was mailed on February 10, 2000.

On September 29, 2000, summary judgment was entered on the forfeiture.   Ranger then filed a motion to vacate the forfeiture and exonerate the bail bond on grounds of voidness.   On December 15, 2000, the trial court denied Ranger's motion to vacate the forfeiture, and this appeal followed.

DISCUSSION

 As amended, section 1166 provides, in pertinent part:  “If a general verdict is rendered against the defendant, or a special verdict is given, he or she must be remanded, if in custody, or if on bail, he or she shall be committed to the proper officer of the county to await the judgment of the court upon the verdict, unless, upon considering the protection of the public, the seriousness of the offense charged and proven, the previous criminal record of the defendant, the probability of the defendant failing to appear for the judgment of the court upon the verdict, and public safety, the court concludes the evidence supports its decision to allow the defendant to remain out on bail.   When committed, his or her bail is exonerated.” (§ 1166, as amended by Stats.1999, ch. 570, § 1;  italics added.)   Before the amendment, section 1166 gave the trial court discretion to remand a defendant to custody or to permit him or her to remain at liberty until sentencing (“If a general verdict is rendered against the defendant, or a special verdict is given, he must be remanded, if in custody, or if on bail he may be committed to the proper officer of the county to await the judgment.”)

In People v. Ranger Insurance Co., supra, 93 Cal.App.4th 1286, 113 Cal.Rptr.2d 759, the court reviewed the legislative history which led to the amendment of section 1166, explaining that it would apply standard rules of statutory construction.   It set forth these rules as follows:  “[Our goal is] to ascertain the intent of the Legislature so as to effectuate its purpose.  [Citations.]   Our role is limited;  we do not question the wisdom, expediency, or policy of legislation.  [Citation.]   Our task is to examine the statutory language, reading the statute as a whole and giving its words their usual, ordinary and commonsense meaning.  [Citations.]  ‘If the terms of the statute are unambiguous, we presume the lawmakers meant what they said, and the plain meaning of the language governs.  [Citations.]’  [Citations.]   We may resort to extrinsic sources only if the words of the statute are ambiguous.  [Citation.]”  (People v. Ranger Insurance Co., supra, 93 Cal.App.4th at p. 1290, 113 Cal.Rptr.2d 759.)

The court then set forth the rules applicable to the construction of bail forfeiture statutes generally:  “ ‘The purpose of bail and forfeiture statutes is to insure the attendance of the accused and his obedience to court orders and judgments.  [Citations.]   It does not have as a goal revenue for the state or punishment to the surety. [Citations.]’  [Citation.]   Because the law disfavors forfeitures and statutes imposing them, we strictly construe section 1166 in favor of the surety to avoid such harsh results.  [Citation.]   Bond forfeiture statutes are jurisdictional and must be strictly followed. [Citation.]   But, ‘ “[t]he burden is upon the bonding company seeking to set aside the forfeiture to establish by competent evidence that its case falls within the four corners of these statutory requirements.  [Citation.]”  ’ [Citations.]”  (People v. Ranger Insurance Co., supra, 93 Cal.App.4th at p. 1290, 113 Cal.Rptr.2d 759.)

 Independently reviewing the language of section 1166 in accordance with the rules of construction set forth above, the People v. Ranger Insurance Co. court observed that “by its express terms, [section 1166] does not apply to convictions entered upon pleas.   Section 1166 specifically states that ‘[i]f a general verdict is rendered against the defendant, or a special verdict is given, he or she ․ shall be committed ․ to await the judgment․’ (Italics added;  see §§ 1151 [general verdict is determined upon a plea of not guilty.   If a finding of guilt is made by the trier of fact, it imports a conviction];  1152 [special verdict defined to be findings of fact by jury].)  Section 1166 says nothing about immediate commitment after a defendant pleads guilty or nolo contendere, even though the effect of a nolo or guilty plea is tantamount to a finding of guilt and conviction.  [Citations.]  [¶] It is not our function to question the language used by the Legislature, nor may we insert language into legislation.   If the Legislature had meant for section 1166 to apply in all cases in which a conviction occurs, it would have said so.   Apparently, the Legislature meant for section 1166 to apply only if the defendant is convicted after he or she stands trial.   Indeed, section 1166 appears in chapter 4 of title 7, which only concerns proceedings on verdicts or findings after trial, rather than in chapter 1 of title 10, which concerns bail.   Whatever reasons may have moved the Legislature to limit the application of section 1166 to general or special verdicts, we may not delve beyond the meaning of the plain, unambiguous words it used in the statute.   On its face, the statute does not apply to negotiated pleas.   Section 1166 refers only to verdicts.”  (People v. Ranger Insurance Co., supra, 93 Cal.App.4th at p. 1291, 113 Cal.Rptr.2d 759, original italics.) 2

Because the court in People v. Ranger Insurance Co. did not find the statutory language of section 1166 amenable to an interpretation that it applied to cases resolved by plea, it did not reach the question of whether the court must make findings on the factors set forth in section 1166 in cases where convictions are obtained upon verdicts.   Such a discourse would have been dicta under the circumstances.

As noted, we agree with the People v. Ranger Insurance Co. court's conclusion that section 1166 does not apply to cases resolved by plea.   Because the defendant in this case pleaded guilty, any new requirements that have been imposed on the trial court to make findings based on section 1166 are inapplicable here.   Accordingly, the trial court did not err in denying Ranger's motion to vacate the forfeiture.

DISPOSITION

The order denying the motion to vacate the forfeiture is affirmed. Ranger is to pay costs on appeal.

FOOTNOTES

1.   All further statutory references are to the Penal Code unless otherwise indicated.

2.   We note that in People v. Seneca Ins. Co. (2002) 94 Cal.App.4th 1358, 115 Cal.Rptr.2d 109, Division Three of the Second Appellate District reached an opposite conclusion to that reached by Division Six of that same court in People v. Ranger Insurance Co., supra, 93 Cal.App.4th 1286, 113 Cal.Rptr.2d 759.   While the Seneca court correctly observed that “[w]hen the words are clear and unambiguous, there is no need for statutory construction or resort to other indicia of legislative intent, such as legislative history,” (id. at p. 1364, 115 Cal.Rptr.2d 109, italics added) the court nevertheless examined the legislative history of section 1166 and concluded that it “applies equally to a defendant convicted pursuant to a plea of guilty” “as contrasted with a guilty verdict.” (Id. at p. 1361, 115 Cal.Rptr.2d 109.)   The Seneca court found that the words of the statute were ambiguous because they referred to on-bail defendants found guilty by general or special verdicts but they failed to “make specific mention of on-bail defendants convicted by guilty pleas.”  (Id. at p. 1364, 115 Cal.Rptr.2d 109.)   However, a statute that is clear and specific does not become ambiguous simply because it does not encompass every topic it might.   Section 1166 applies by its terms only where “a general verdict is rendered against the defendant, or a special verdict is given.”   It does not discuss what is required of a court when a defendant pleads guilty.   Where, as here, a statute is clear and unambiguous, it is unnecessary and contrary to the rules governing statutory construction to turn to legislative history.   According, we disagree with the Seneca court's analysis.

WUNDERLICH, J.

WE CONCUR:  BAMATTRE-MANOUKIAN, Acting P.J., and O'FARRELL, J.*

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