This is an original petition for writs of mandamus and prohibition. The Petitioners are James Wesley Robertson, who was arrested for shoplifting, and Wesley Neal Robertson, who posted a cash bond to secure James' release. The Respondents are Jay Goldman, a Charleston Municipal Judge, and Connie Felty, a Deputy Clerk of the Municipal Court. The Petitioners pray that the Respondents be required to return the cash bond and cease incarcerating criminal defendants solely because they cannot post a cash bond.
Petitioner James Robertson was arrested on December 18, 1987, and charged with a misdemeanor, first offense shoplifting. The maximum penalty for such a conviction under Charleston City Code § 18-58(e)(1) (1975) is a fine of two hundred fifty dollars.
Petitioner Wesley Neal Robertson posted $305.00 cash appearance bond the next morning, and the other Petitioner was released. Counsel was later appointed for the defendant Petitioner. On January 14, 1988, the Petitioner was found guilty of the shoplifting charge and fined $205.00. Counsel informed the Respondent Judge that an appeal would be taken and asked that the $305.00 appearance bond be returned. The Respondent Judge replied that the appearance bond posted by Petitioner Wesley Neal Robertson would only be returned when Petitioner James Robertson posted a $205.00 appeal bond.
The Petitioners contend that the incarceration of Petitioner James Robertson because of his inability to post bond violated his constitutional rights and that the post-conviction retention of the $305.00 cash appearance bond posted by Petitioner Wesley Neal Robertson in lieu of posting an appeal bond was unauthorized by law.
No jail time was involved in the maximum penalty faced by the Petitioner herein if convicted of first offense shoplifting; yet, because he was unable to post bond, the Petitioner was incarcerated the night of December 18, 1987. The United States Supreme Court has held that it is unconstitutional to hold a prisoner longer than his maximum sentence because of his inability to pay fines or court costs, Williams v. Illinois, 399 U.S. 235, 90 S.Ct. 2018, 26 L.Ed.2d 586 (1970), or to incarcerate a defendant convicted of an offense which did not otherwise carry a jail term in order to have him "satisfy" his fine, Tate v. Short, 401 U.S. 395, 91 S.Ct. 668, 28 L.Ed.2d 130 (1971). Both of these cases rely on the reasoning of the landmark decision Griffin v. Illinois, 351 U.S. 12, 76 S.Ct. 585, 100 L.Ed. 891 (1956), which required trial transcripts for indigent criminal appellants. Because our ruling today is based on these same principles, we quote at some length from that decision.
Griffin, 351 U.S. at 16-17, 76 S.Ct. at 589-590 (footnotes and citations omitted).
The law is the same in West Virginia. The right to the equal protection of
In addition to the constitutional considerations already discussed, the Petitioner had a statutory right to be admitted to bail. W.Va.Code § 62-1C-1 (1984 Replacement Vol.). Further, "[a]n indigent person who the court is satisfied will appear as required shall not be denied bail because of his inability to furnish recognizance." W.Va.Code § 62-1C-4 (1984 Replacement Vol.). The Charleston Municipal Court was on notice that the Petitioner was an indigent. The Respondents do not contend that they had reason to fear that the Petitioner would not appear as scheduled. It is uncontroverted that, but for his indigency, the Petitioner would never have been jailed, since the offense with which he was charged did not carry a penalty of incarceration. Therefore, the Charleston Municipal Court's practice of jailing indigents solely because they are unable to post bond is violative of both statutory and constitutional provisions, and must cease.
The $305.00 cash bond posted by Petitioner Wesley Neal Robertson was an appearance bond. West Virginia Code § 62-1C-2 (1984 Replacement Vol.) defines bail, in part, as "security for the appearance of a defendant to answer to a specific criminal charge." Further, "[w]hen the condition of the bond has been satisfied ... [the judge] shall exonerate the surety and release any bail." W.Va.Code § 62-1C-12 (1984 Replacement Vol.). No one questions that all appearances were made as required in this case or that a judgment has been rendered and a fine imposed.
The Respondents argue that West Virginia Code § 62-1C-6 (1984 Replacement Vol.) authorizes a court to continue initial bail pending appeal after conviction. While it is true that statute permits continuing bail under appropriate conditions, such is not the case here. First, the Respondents' argument ignores completely the clearly stated requirement of Section 12 to release any bail when the bond condition is satisfied. The argument also ignores the nature of bail bond as a contract between the state and the surety, whose liability cannot be extended beyond the terms of the bond without his consent, Annotation, Bail: Duration of Surety's Liability on Pretrial Bond, 32 A.L.R. 4th 504, 509 (1984). Here, the contract was between the City of Charleston and Petitioner Wesley Neal Robertson, who specifically requested the return of his deposit and refused to give his consent to extend his liability.
Petitioner James Robertson contends that he should be allowed to pursue his appeal in the circuit court without posting bond. The Appellant has a statutory right to appeal his conviction de novo to the circuit court. W.Va.Code § 8-34-1 (1984 Replacement Vol.). That statute requires the posting of "an appeal bond with surety
We have previously recognized that an indigent's right to appeal from the decision of a municipal court can be defeated by manipulating this "appeal bond"
If our statute rigidly required the posting of a cash appearance bond for the perfection of an appeal, it would be unconstitutional as applied to indigents. Under our rules of statutory construction, however, "where a statute is susceptible of more than one construction, one which renders the statute constitutional, and the other which renders it unconstitutional, the statute will be given the construction which sustains constitutionality." State ex rel. Frieson v. Isner, 168 W.Va. 758, 778-79, 285 S.E.2d 641, 655 (1981). The word "surety" need not mean anything more than "a pledge or other formal engagement given for the fulfillment of an undertaking." Webster's Third New International Dictionary 2300 (1970). Therefore, the requirement of Code § 8-34-1 that an "appeal bond with surety deemed sufficient" be entered into before a defendant sentenced in a municipal court may be allowed an appeal de novo to the circuit court shall be interpreted to allow a recognizance where appropriate or where the defendant is an indigent.
Because discrimination on the basis of poverty denies the equal protection of the laws to criminal defendants, a writ of prohibition is granted ordering the Respondents to cease their practice of jailing indigents facing charges which do not carry a potential jail term soley because they are unable to post bond. Writs of mandamus are also granted ordering the Respondents to return the $305.00 cash bond posted by Petitioner Wesley Neal Robertson and to allow Petitioner James Wesley Robertson's appeal de novo to the circuit court without requiring the posting of cash bond.
Writs as Moulded Granted.
NEELY, Justice, dissenting:
I dissent because the majority rule leaves no room for a court to question the financial priorities of an "indigent" defendant. Once the defendant signs a pauper's affidavit, he is automatically granted the right to an appeal bond on his own recognizance.
In the real world, every individual has his own financial priorities. First for almost everyone are expenses for shelter, food, clothing and transportation to and from work (if there is a job) and to the
The bond requirement for an appeal to circuit court serves two purposes. Most directly, it is designed to ensure the once-convicted defendant's appearance in the appellate court. Indirectly, the bond requirement makes it less likely that a defendant will take an appeal that is totally lacking in merit. For a working man of limited means, posting an appeal bond and missing work for the appeal itself are not likely done unless the defendant feels he has some basis for the appeal. However, a defendant who makes less money or receives government assistance, and who takes the pauper's oath, has but to sign his name to perfect an appeal. What defendant of any intelligence will not follow a path of least resistance and take an appeal, regardless of its basis? And how seriously will defendants, particularly professional defendants, treat proceedings in municipal courts when they know they automatically have another free shot? We must strike a balance so that indigents are not denied equal protection due to their poverty, but with due regard for the needs of the administration of justice and the fair treatment of non-indigent defendants of modest means.
In this case, when the defendant's liberty was at stake, his family found the means to post his bond. Yet when it came time to post an appeal bond, the defendant insists he has no access to funds for the bond.
I do not believe that the "surety deemed sufficient" clause of the appeal bond statute should automatically be deemed to mean personal recognizance in every case where the defendant has filed a pauper's affidavit. Rather, after a conviction, I would require the judge below to make an inquiry into defendant's means, including family sources, and into his financial priorities. The posting of an appeal bond should come after the necessities discussed supra, but before any other voluntary expenses.