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What happens if I fail to appear in court?

Failure to appear in court can result in criminal charges, a warrant issued for your arrest, and increased financial penalties. The consequences of a “failure to appear” (FTA) depend on the reason for the court appearance and any prior criminal history.

There may be a number of reasons why someone fails to appear in court. However, with limited exceptions, the court may not be very forgiving for failing to show up to court or not notifying the court ahead of time.

If you will not be able to appear in court on a certain date or have missed the court appearance, talk to your East Bay DUI defense lawyer. Your lawyer can help you clear up the situation and help you avoid getting arrested for missing a court date.

Failure to Appear for a Traffic Ticket

When pulled over for speeding or other traffic offense, a driver generally signs the ticket after it is filled out by the officer. Part of the language on the ticket states the driver will promise to appear in court. Most people simply pay the ticket to avoid having to go to court. However, when the driver does not pay the ticket and does not make other arrangements, the driver may be required to appear in court on the date provided by the ticket.

If you cannot appear in court on the date of your ticket, contact the court as soon as possible to change the date of your court appearance or make other arrangements.

If you do not go to court on your court date, the court may take the following action:

  • Issue a Failure to Appear
  • Suspend your driver's license
  • Add a civil assessment of up to $300 to any fines
  • Find you guilty in absentia
  • Refer your case for collection
  • Issue a bench warrant for your arrest
  • Charge you with a misdemeanor or an infraction for failure to appear

Failure to appear in court for a traffic ticket can be treated as a misdemeanor offense under California Vehicle Code 40508.

Some people simply ignore court dates on a traffic ticket, not thinking of them as a big deal. Other people may totally forget about the court appearance or never get a notice of the court appearance after moving and not updating their address with the DMV. Individuals in California should address any FTA issue as soon as possible to avoid additional penalties and fines.

Failure to Appear After an Arrest or DUI Charge

Failure to appear for a misdemeanor or felony offense can be a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the charge. Failure to appear in court charges depend on if the individual is out on bail or was released on their own recognizance.

When a defendant fails to appear for a court date after being released on his or her own recognizance, it is a violation of California Penal Code 1320. The criminal classification is based on the underlying criminal charge. Failure to appear is a misdemeanor for misdemeanor charges and a felony for felony charges.

  • “Every person who is charged with or convicted of the commission of a misdemeanor who is released from custody on his or her own recognizance and who in order to evade the process of the court willfully fails to appear as required, is guilty of a misdemeanor.”
  • “Every person who is charged with or convicted of the commission of a felony who is released from custody on his or her own recognizance and who in order to evade the process of the court willfully fails to appear as required, is guilty of a felony.”

Bond and Bail After Failure to Appear in Court

It is a different type of criminal violation for failure to appear in court when the defendant is on bail. Bond or bail is usually money or some other security put up to secure the defendant's release from jail. This also includes paying a bail bond company (generally 10% of the bail amount) for the defendant's release.

Under California Penal Code 1320.5: “Every person who is charged with or convicted of the commission of a felony, who is released from custody on bail, and who in order to evade the process of the court willfully fails to appear as required, is guilty of a felony.”

The penalties for failure to appear when released on bail include prison for up to one year and a fine of up to $10,000.

Bench Warrant After Failure to Appear

A bench warrant is a warrant for your arrest based on failure to appear in court. The judge may issue an FTA and a bench warrant for your arrest. Even if you have a reason for missing the court date, you may have to address the bench warrant before you can move ahead with your case.

Enforcing the bench warrant may depend on the type of underlying violation. For example, failure to appear on a felony charge will be taken more seriously than a failure to appear for a traffic ticket. However, any arrest warrant will generally lead to being taken into custody.

For example, an FTA and bench warrant may not immediately lead to the police showing up at your house. However, if you get pulled over on another traffic stop, the police will see the bench warrant notification and take you into custody, even for something as minor as a speeding ticket.

For an FTA and bench warrant for a felony charge, the police may get a search warrant to find the suspect, showing up at their house, place of work, or friend or family member's home.

If you have a bench warrant, talk to your attorney about how to clear it up before you get arrested. If you go to the court to try and take care of a failure to appear and there is a bench warrant, you may end up under arrest and in jail before you have a chance to fix the FTA issue.

Talk to your East Bay criminal defense attorney about your case if you have missed a court date and are out on bond or bail.

East Bay Criminal Defense Attorney

Lynn Gorelick has more than 30 years of criminal defense experience defending her clients facing misdemeanor and felony charges in the East Bay. She understands how to approach the individual facts of each case for the greatest chance of success, keeping her clients out of jail and keeping a clean record. Whether you are arrested in Fremont, Richmond or anywhere else in Contra Costa County or Alameda County, contact Lynn Gorelick.

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