Clifton L. Collins v. Clarke (4th Cir. 14-7082, 3/22/16), or “If You’re Going to Kidnap Someone In Another State, You Should Probably Read the Relevant Statutes First.”

A must-read unpublished opinion for anyone contemplating a career move to bail-bondsman, with the notion of securing your bounties in another state!   This opinion is the denial of Collins’s attempt at relief by way of a federal habeas proceeding.  “Dog, Bounty Hunter” Collins was a bail bondsman licensed in NC.  He posted the bond for a particular defendant who did not show up for court.  Collins found out that his defendant would be attending a funeral in Virginia which he thought was a perfect opportunity to take his charge into his care.  He decided he would travel to Virginia to get his bounty!  The local law enforcement agencies, who Collins initially contacted to help him, refused to get involved in the absence of an extradition warrant.   Collins showed up at the funeral and pulled a gun on his defendant’s cousin, and pulled him towards his truck.  After this cousin showed his identification to Collins, proving he wasn’t the bail-jumping defendant, Collins sped off.  Nasty words were exchanged during their encounter; it was an unpleasant event.  The cousin then called law enforcement who charged Collins with attempted abduction and use of a firearm in the commission of attempted abduction.

After a bench trial, Collins was found guilty.  He appealed to the Court of Appeals of Virginia and the Virginia Supreme Court.  One of his issues was that he had the legal authority under federal common law to attempt to seize his defendant pursuant to Taylor v. Taintor, 83 U.S. 366 (1872).  He also raised an issue of not having the specific intent to kidnap the cousin because he believed (mistake of fact!) that he was abducting his defendant.  These arguments were rejected.

Collins then filed a state habeas petition and alleged 1) insufficient evidence of intent to kidnap victim, 2) denied due process because retroactive application of Virginia’s bail bondsman statute, 3) ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to raise due process claim, 4) denied due process because lacked requisite intent to commit abduction, and 5) counsel was ineffective for failing to preserve argument that he lacked specific intent to commit abduction.   Long story short, he lost here, too.

Collins then filed his federal petition for writ of habeas corpus and raised essentially the same claims he raised in the state habeas petition.  The district court judge denied the claims, but the Fourth Circuit granted certificates of appealability (COA) on the two ineffective assistance of counsel claims:

1)         Whether Appellant’s trial counsel was ineffective in failing to preserve for appeal the issue of whether the retroactive application of Virginia statutory licensing requirements to limit his common law rights as a bail bondsman violated his right to due process; and

2)         Whether Appellant’s counsel was ineffective in failing to argue at trial and on appeal that Appellant lacked the requisite intent to commit abduction?

Collins argued that Taylor v. Taintor, supra, gave him license to undertake the abduction of a bail-jumper in Virginia.  He claims his counsel was ineffective for failing to raise the issue.  The Court found that, even if trial counsel was deficient, he still cannot satisfy the second prong of Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), that the result of his proceedings would be any different.  The Court notes that Virginia General Assembly passed bail bondsmen statutes three years earlier than Collins’s abduction attempt, back in 2004.  The statutes are unambiguous and do not allow bailsmen like Collins to do what he did.  The bail bondsmen statutes establish licensing requirements to ensure “respectable, responsible, safe and effective bail enforcement within the Commonwealth” (unlike Dog, the Bounty Hunter here).  So, trial counsel was not ineffective because frankly, the law on the books made his actions a crime anyway.

As for Collins’s second argument about his “intent” to commit abduction, the Court quickly rejected that as “tenuous at best.”  In short, it doesn’t matter that you “unintentionally” attempted to abduct the wrong person.  Anyway, despite losing the case, it’s clear that Collins had very competent and able counsel representing him.  That the Court issued the COA’s illustrates that they were obviously quite interested in the issues even if they ultimately rejected Collins’s arguments.  At the end of the day, it appears that the federal court, as is their duty, deferred to the Virginia courts, and to Virginia’s statutory scheme that controls licensing and conduct in the potentially highly dangerous enterprise of bail bondsmen.  Take aways– If you become a bail bondsman, don’t kidnap people in other states without reading the relevant statutes in those states.  Also, don’t be an asshole when you attempt to kidnap someone because they just might call the police.