In 1994, our client went into a Bank of American in the Koreatown area (the 3000 block of Wilshire Boulevard) of Los Angeles and cashed a forged check from 20th Century automobile insurance company in the amount of $3,583. At the time, she was 24 years old. She had just immigrated to the United States from Guatemala and was unable to find work except in an illegal context that this summary will not describe.
Two days later, she deposited another forged check to her account through a Bank of America ATM, only to withdraw the amount two days later.
The same day, she went back to the same Bank of America and attempted to cash a third check for the same amount. The teller asked our client about the checks and our client explained that they were part of an auto accident settlement. The teller nonetheless considered the transaction suspicious and went to speak with her manager, who called 20th Century, which confirmed the check was a forged check. The manager then called the Los Angeles Police Department, who came to the bank and arrested our client.
Our client was then booked and released after posting bail for $20,000. She had to post $2,000 to be released.
Our client then left California and for Minnesota to live with friends from Guatemala and never showed up for court. At the arraignment, since the client was not present, the judge issued a bench warrant in the amount of $50,000.
Fast forward 27 years to 2021 and our client’s employer told her she had a felony bench warrant from Los Angeles in the amount of $50,000. Our client, now 51 years old, believed that case had “gone away” and called our office to ask, “why the police still wanted her.”
Greg Hill spoke with the client and explained that the case would not be dismissed after a certain amount of time if defendant ignored it by not coming to court for that time. The client seemed frustrated and angry that the $7,166 she obtained by forgery (Penal Code § 470) could not just be forgotten. After all, “don’t they forgive people?” she asked.
The client then asked what our office could do to help her.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic was at its peak, Greg explained that many judges were trying to handle matters without defendants coming to court. Greg explained that normally, since the case was a felony, she would be required to appear in person before the judge to have the bench warrant recalled.
However, under COVID-19 conditions, some judges were relaxing such requirements and allowing an attorney to appear in a felony case for a client under Penal Code § 977(b)(2). Greg explained that he could try this, but the judge certainly could deny such a request. If granted, such an appearance by just Greg would save the client the expense of airfare, a hotel and a rental car for each court appearance, which could end up being several thousand dollars if four or five court appearances were needed.
Greg then explained that he would attempt to resolve the case thereafter (usually by a dismissal because the witnesses and evidence generally are unavailable after 27 years), however, Bank of America was still in business and may still request the return of the money, plus interest.
Greg then did prepare a Penal Code § 977(b)(2) Consent to Waiver of Personal Appearance for our client to sign, have notarized and then return with a copy of her Minnesota driver’s license to assure the judge that the person signing the waiver and consent really was the defendant in the case.
Greg then appeared in the Clara Shortridge Foltz criminal courts building and requested permission to appear under 977(b)(2) for the client, which the judge granted. The judge then recalled the bench warrant and set the case for a preliminary hearing setting conference.
Remarkably, the District Attorney’s office still had their file on our client, as well as the police report.
In informal settlement discussions with the District Attorney assigned to the case, it was agreed that the case would be dismissed if our client simply returned the $7,166 with no interest charged. Greg explained this agreement to the client, who was happy with this and sent the $7,166 from Minnesota to our office to pay Bank of America.
After multiple further appearances, a Bank of America representative finally showed up in court and the check for $7,166 was tendered to the representative. The District Attorney then made a motion to dismiss the case in the interest of justice under Penal Code § 1385, which the judge granted.
This result was particularly welcomed by our client because she had not visited her mother in Guatemala in 27 years due to the outstanding bench warrant. Now she could do so with no anxiety of being arrested by immigration authorities for the felony bench warrant upon her returning to the United States.
For more information about bench warrant recall issues, please click on the following articles: