Failure to appear (FTA) is when you have a court date set and, for whatever reason, you don’t show up. This can result in the judge issuing a bench or criminal arrest warrant, depending on what you were supposed to appear in court for. Penalties for this depend on whether the original charge was a misdemeanor, felony, or traffic citation.
For a criminal warrant, the police will actively seek to take you into custody. For a bench warrant, the police will run your name in a database if you have any contact with them for any reason and arrest you on the spot. In either case, hiring a good criminal defense lawyer is in your best interests.
Being Released on Your Own Recognizance
Being released O.R. is generally reserved for first time offenders who are not a flight risk or a danger to the community. It also means you promise the court to show up when you are supposed to and, overall, helps you avoid paying thousands of dollars in bail.
The court takes your promise to appear in court seriously. California law requires that when you are released on your own recognizance, you are to sign a release agreement which is legally binding and states that you:
- Promise to appear in court for all scheduled court dates
- Promise to abide by and comply with all court-ordered conditions of release (such as house arrest, drug treatment, or a restraining order)
- Promise that you will not leave the state of California without first getting the court’s permission
- Agree to waive extradition proceedings in the event that you fail to appear and are arrested outside of the state of California
- Have been informed of the penalties and consequences of failure to appear in court
If you willfully fail to appear, and the assumption is you willfully tried to evade the court process and not contact the court within 14 days of your court date, your potential penalties vary based on the original charge.
Saying you did not willfully fail to appear is one of your best defenses against an FTA charge, and your criminal defense lawyer can help you mount that defense.
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Misdemeanor Charge Penalties for Failing to Appear in Court
If you were originally charged with a misdemeanor, failure to appear also becomes a misdemeanor, according to Penal Code 1320 PC. Penalties include:
- Up to six months in county jail
- A fine of up to $1000
- Or both a fine and jail time
Felony Charge Penalties for Failing to Appear in Court
If the original charge against you was a felony charge, failure to appear also becomes a felony, according to Penal Code 1320.5 PC. Penalties include:
- Up to three years in a California state prison
- A maximum $5,000 fine if you were released on your own recognizance, and $10,000 if you were released on bail
- Or both a fine and prison time
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Failure to Appear for a Traffic Violation in California
If you fail to appear for a scheduled court date for a traffic violation, such as a speeding ticket, driving without insurance, DUI, or reckless driving, you face the additional penalty of having your driver’s license suspended. That can be a real hardship if you have a long commute for work, or make a living on the road, such as a truck driver.
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Failure to Appear When You Are Already on Probation
Failure to appear would immediately be a probation violation and could result in your probation being revoked. You would then be behind bars in jail. If you failed to appear and you’re on probation, you need an experienced probation violation lawyer on your side.
Defenses for Failure to Appear Charges
Willfulness and intent to evade are key elements of California’s Failure to Appear law. If you genuinely didn’t know about a court date, or some other factor prevented you from making it to court, you can make a valid case. As long as you act responsibly afterward with the help of an attorney, it’s unlikely your actions will look like you intentionally tried to miss your court date.
If you were released on your own recognizance and didn’t sign an agreement to return to court, you will want to work with a skilled criminal defense attorney so they can research your case history and work for a speedy dismissal.
Instances Where a Person Is Legally Required to Appear in Court in California
Individuals are legally required to appear in court when they:
- Give a written promise to appear
- Receive, or are subject to, a subpoena
- Are ordered back to court by a judge in a criminal proceeding
- Are otherwise notified to appear
It is likely you will give a written promise to appear in court when you are released from custody on your own recognizance.
When it comes to subpoenas, these typically apply to people called as witnesses in a hearing or trial. If you receive one, it will inform you that you must either appear in court to testify in a court proceeding, or appear so that they can bring certain documents to a court proceeding.
You might get ordered back to court when you, the defendant, plead guilty to a charge, or when the judge orders you back to court in a few weeks for your sentencing hearing.
Talk to a California Criminal Defense Lawyer Today
If you have a good reason for failing to appear, such as a missed flight or severe illness, sometimes getting written documentation to present to the court is all it takes to clear up the FTA charge. But having a lawyer by your side who is experienced in court proceedings can make all the difference and you can possibly avoid any fines or jail time.
The Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers at Simmrin Law Group have your back. We’re available to take your call 24/7 for a free consultation. Don’t talk to the police until you talk to us.