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State v. Knight

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

October 3, 2017

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA,
v.
ANTONIO JERMAINE KNIGHT, JR., Defendant and ONTARRIS T. ARMSTRONG, Bail Agent, and FINANCIAL CASUALTY & SURETY, Surety.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 7 August 2017.

          Appeal by Wilson County Board of Education from order entered 3 October 2016 by Judge William C. Farris in District Court, Wilson County No. 15 CR 701951, following a hearing the same date before Judge John J. Covolo.

          Schwartz & Shaw, P.L.L.C., by Kristopher L. Caudle and Rebecca M. Williams, for Wilson County Board of Education, Plaintiff-Appellant.

          No brief for Antonio Jermaine Knight, Jr., Defendant.

          No brief for Ontarris T. Armstrong, Bail Agent.

          Harris & Associates, P.L.L.C., by Robert J. Harris, for Financial Casualty & Surety, Defendant-Appellee Surety.

          McGEE, Chief Judge.

         The Wilson County Board of Education ("the Board of Education")[1] appeals from the trial court's order reducing a bond forfeiture amount after denying a surety's motion to set aside the bond forfeiture. Because we conclude the trial court lacked statutory authority to reduce the bond forfeiture amount, we vacate the trial court's order and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. Background

         Antonio Jermaine Knight ("Defendant") failed to appear in Wilson County District Court in an underlying criminal matter on 11 March 2016. The Wilson County Clerk of Court issued a bond forfeiture notice in the amount of $2, 000.00 to Defendant, Financial Casualty & Insurance ("Surety"), and Surety's bail agent, Ontarris T. Armstrong ("Bail Agent"), on 14 March 2016. Notice was mailed to all parties on 17 March 2016.

         Clarence Fuller, another bail agent of Surety, filed a motion to set aside the bond forfeiture ("the motion to set aside") on 15 August 2016. Form AOC-CR-213, the preprinted form used for motions to set aside a forfeiture, lists the seven reasons, pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-544.5, for which a bond forfeiture may be set aside, with corresponding boxes for a movant to mark the alleged basis for setting aside the forfeiture. In the present case, the motion to set aside filed by Surety's bail agent did not indicate Surety's reason for setting aside the forfeiture. A document attached to the motion, entitled "General Court of Justice (Surety Notice of Defendant's Incarceration), " indicated that Defendant was incarcerated on 2 August 2016 with a projected release date of 5 October 2016. The Board of Education objected to the motion to set aside the forfeiture on 17 August 2016.

         Following a hearing on 3 October 2016, the trial court denied Surety's motion to set aside the bond forfeiture, based on its finding that Surety "ha[d] [not] established one or more of the reasons specified in [ N.C. G.S. §] 15A-544.5 for setting aside [the] forfeiture." In accordance with N.C. G.S. § 15A-544.5(d)(7) (2017), the trial court's order provided that "the forfeiture shall become a final judgment of forfeiture on the later of this date or one hundred and fifty (150) days after the 'Date Notice Given[.]'" Despite denying the motion, the trial court verbally reduced the amount of the bond forfeiture from $2, 000.00 to $300.00.[2] A handwritten notation stating "Surety to pay $300" appears on the trial court's order, also filed on 3 October 2016. Surety paid $300.00 to the clerk of court that same day. The Board of Education appeals.

         II. Analysis

         The Board of Education contends the trial court lacked statutory authority to reduce the amount of the bond forfeiture after denying Surety's motion to set aside the bond forfeiture. We agree.

         A. Standard of Review

         In an appeal from an order setting aside a bond forfeiture, "the standard of review for this Court is whether there was competent evidence to support the trial court's findings of fact and whether its conclusions of law were proper in light of such facts." State v. Dunn, 200 N.C.App. 606');">200 N.C.App. 606, 608, 685 S.E.2d 526, 528 (2009) (citation omitted); see also N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-544.5(h) (2015) (providing in part that "[a]n order on a motion to set aside a forfeiture is a final order or judgment of the trial court for purposes of appeal. Appeal is the same as provided for appeals in civil actions."). Questions of law, including matters of statutory construction, are reviewed de novo. See In re Hall, 238 N.C.App. 322, 324, 768 S.E.2d 39, 41 (2014) (citation omitted) ("Resolution of issues involving statutory construction is ultimately a question of law for the courts. Where an appeal presents a question of statutory interpretation, full review is appropriate, and we review a trial court's conclusions of law de novo[.]").

         B. Surety's ...


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