When a person who has been arrested and released on bail fails to appear for their court date(s), the judge has the option of ordering the bail bond money forfeited to the state for the use of the public schools.
The process of forfeiting bail money, turning an order of forfeiture into an enforceable civil judgment, and collecting the money was one of the most work-intensive and legally vague processes in the court system. Consequently, the AOC selected this process for automation as a subsystem of the Civil Case Processing System (VCAP). The automation was designed to:
- produce all paperwork associated with the forfeiture process;
- manage court calendars for forfeiture hearings;
- docket and enforce forfeiture judgments without using the civil judgment docket books;
- manage the records of licensed sureties (e.g. bondsmen) within the office of the clerks of Superior Court.
Design and development of the automation began in 1997, and conversion of the process statewide began with Wilson County in January 1999. Conversion involved three-day classroom sessions for clerk of Superior Court staff, followed by several days of on-site records conversion in each county. Using a team of four trainers, this training and conversion phase was complete in July 2000.
As the automation began to move across the state, its features helped to identify the gaps and inefficiencies of the statutes governing bond forfeitures. As a result, the groups involved in the bond forfeiture process - the AOC (on behalf of the clerks, judges and magistrates), the NC Department of Insurance, and the bail bonding industry - began a concerted effort to improve the law of forfeitures and the bail bonding process as a whole. As the last counties went "live" on the bond forfeiture automation in VCAP in July 2000, the General Assembly passed the revised statutes to govern the process.
The revised statutes made bond forfeitures into something unique within the law - a process that begins with a judge's order of forfeiture at the defendant's failure to appear, and proceeds over the course of five months to an enforceable civil judgment - all without the action of a judicial official beyond the original order. All notices, entry of final judgment and enforcement measures occur at specific times, all by the operation of law and without any court time involved.
These changes led to a rapid revision of the automated system. By January 1, 2001, the revised automation was in place, effectively running the bond forfeiture process on autopilot. Over the space of four years - from the first look at what it would take to automate a the bond forfeiture process, through a massive legislative change, to the second version of the automated system - a formerly vague and work-intensive area of the law has been transformed by the benefits of automation.