Bail Surety’s Request for Relief From Forfeiture

Unless otherwise indicated, all indented material is copied directly from the court’s opinion.

Decisions of the Tennessee Supreme Court

In re: Rader Bonding Company, Inc., No. M2017-01687-SC-R11-CD, 592 S.W.3d 852, 858 (Tenn. 2019).

[W]e take this opportunity to clarify that Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-11-204(a) provides trial courts with discretion to relieve a surety from forfeiture. However, trial courts must exercise this discretion consistently with other statutory provisions, some of which have been enacted after the language of section 40-11-204(a) became a part of Tennessee law. FN7 See, e.g., Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 40-11-130(a)(1), – 138(b) (2018). Appellate courts should review a trial court’s decision on a request for relief from forfeiture under the abuse of discretion standard. See Goldsby v. State, 159 Tenn. 396, 19 S.W.2d 241, 242 (1929) (correctly stating that “the exercise of [a judge’s] discretion will not be reviewed unless arbitrary”). A trial court abuses its discretion “when it applies an incorrect legal standard, reaches an illogical conclusion, bases its decision on a clearly erroneous assessment of the evidence, or employs reasoning that causes an injustice to the complaining party.” State v. Jones, 568 S.W.3d 101, 127-28 (Tenn. 2019) (citing State v. Davis, 466 S.W.3d 49, 61 (Tenn. 2015)). To determine whether the trial court here applied the correct legal standard we must interpret several statutes. Questions regarding statutory interpretation are reviewed de novo with no presumption of correctness afforded to the lower court’s findings. State v. Davis, 173 S.W.3d 411, 413 (Tenn. 2005) (citing State v. Denton, 149 S.W.3d 1, 17 (Tenn. 2004)). Applying these standards, we conclude, as explained hereinafter, that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Rader relief from forfeiture.

FN 7  Although we abrogate the language of Frankgos purporting to constrict this statutory discretion, we reaffirm that trial courts ordinarily should not grant relief from forfeiture simply because a defendant fails to appear and a surety makes ordinary, good faith—but unsuccessful—efforts to locate the defendant, as was the case in Frankgos. Indeed the defendant’s nonappearance is the very risk a surety assumes in the contract. In re Sanford & Sons Bail Bonds, Inc., 96 S.W.3d 199, 202 (Tenn. Crim. App. 2002) (citing Holly J. Joiner, Note, Private Police: Defending the Power of Professional Bail Bondsmen, 32 Ind. L. Rev. 1413, 1422 (1999)).


Decisions of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals


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