State v. Mohammed, COA23-198, ___ N.C. App. ___ (Oct. 17, 2023)

In this Durham County case, the Durham Public Schools Board of Education (Board) appealed an order granting relief from a judgment of bond forfeiture, arguing the bond surety company did not make a showing of extraordinary circumstances to justify relief. The Court of Appeals agreed, reversing the trial court’s order for abuse of discretion. 

Defendant in the underlying criminal case was arrested in February 2020, and released on a $5,000 secured bond. At defendant’s January 2022 court date, he failed to appear, leading the trial court to issue a bond forfeiture notice with a final judgment date of June 16, 2022. On the same day as the final judgment, the bail agent filed a motion to set aside the forfeiture, arguing that defendant had died. Instead of attaching a copy of the defendant’s death certificate to the motion, the bond agent attached a handwritten note stating “[d]efendant died and we are getting a copy of death certificate.” Slip Op. at 2. The Board objected and moved for sanctions, pointing out that the motion did not contain actual evidence of defendant’s death; the trial court imposed $2,500 in sanctions and left the final judgment in place. After the State moved to dismiss the charges against defendant, the surety filed another motion for relief from the final judgment of forfeiture, this time attaching a photograph of defendant’s death certificate from Cook County, Illinois. The trial court ultimately left the sanctions in place, but granted the surety relief from the bond forfeiture, concluding that extraordinary circumstances justified relief. The Board appealed. 

The Court of Appeals found the trial court abused its discretion in granting the motion for relief, as no evidence in the record supported a finding of extraordinary circumstances under G.S. 15A-544.8(b)(2). While the surety’s counsel argued that obtaining the death certificate was difficult and required a search for family members, the record contained no sworn testimony or affidavits supporting this assertion. The court pointed out “[c]ounsel’s arguments were not evidence, and the record is devoid of evidence to support the trial court’s finding” that extraordinary circumstances occurred. Id. at 6. Because no evidence in the record supported the trial court’s conclusion, “the trial court’s conclusion that extraordinary circumstances existed could not have been the result of a reasoned decision.” Id.