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Failure to appear in court on a misdemeanor charge can lead to an FTA warrant, bail problems, fines, and additional criminal charges. The severity of the offense tends to depend on the underlying criminal charge. The failure to appear has to be willful to be punishable, though. The court may excuse an absence if it was justified or accidental.
Failure to appear, or FTA, is the criminal offense of willfully not showing up at a mandatory court date.
A person can have a mandatory court date for several reasons. Some of the most common include when the defendant:
In California, prosecutors have to prove 4 things to secure a conviction for failure to appear:
Defendants facing a misdemeanor charge and who fail to appear can face the following consequences:
In many states, the criminal charge for failure to appear depends on the underlying offense.
California is one of these states.
California Penal Code 1320 PC is the statute that covers failure to appear for defendants who have been:
If the underlying offense is a misdemeanor case, then the charge for failure to appear will also be a misdemeanor. In these cases, failure to appear in the state of California is punishable with up to 6 months in county jail.3 This is in addition to any jail time that the original offense carries.
California also allows the judge to impose a civil fine against a defendant for missing court. This fine can be as high as $300.4
The judge will also issue a bench warrant to bring the defendant to court.
The judge is also likely to be far less lenient when he or she sets bail. This is because the defendant has already skipped a court date. The judge is likely to see this as an indication that the defendant will do it, again. The judge will likely see this as warranting a higher bail to ensure that the defendant appears, in the future.
Importantly, a missed court date for a misdemeanor offense does not generally carry immigration consequences. Federal immigration law lists certain criminal offenses as making a resident deportable. Others make an immigrant inadmissible. A failure to appear does not fall into either of these categories. However, the underlying charge might.5
A bench warrant is a court order for law enforcement to arrest someone and bring them to court. It is similar to an arrest warrant, except that it is initiated by the court, not by law enforcement.
Judges usually issue a bench warrant after a defendant fails to appear at a required court date. If the underlying offense was a misdemeanor, like some driving under the influence (DUI) cases, police officers tend not to actively execute the warrant, though. Instead, they will execute it by arresting the defendant the next time they interact with them. This often happens at a routine traffic stop.
However, if the underlying offense was serious or there are potential victims who may be endangered, police may actively seek out the defendant named on the bench warrant.
Failing to appear for a court proceeding related to a felony charge is more severe.
California is one of the many states that treat failure to appear as a felony if the original charge was also a felony.
California Penal Code 1320.5 PC makes it a crime to skip court if:
Violations carry up to:
Additionally, if the defendant had been released on bail, failing to appear will likely lead to the forfeiture of the bond.
Some states treat the failure to appear in court over a traffic ticket as an infraction. In California, though, it is a misdemeanor to willfully miss a court date for a traffic violation.
Violations of California Vehicle Code 40508a VC carry up to:
Additionally, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) can suspend the defendant’s driver’s license.8
There are several legal defenses that a criminal defense attorney can help defendants raise to fight the charge of failure to appear.
The most common is that the failure to appear was not willful. It is up to the prosecutor to show that the defendant missed the court date willingly or on purpose.9 If the defendant forgot about the court appearance or was not adequately notified, it can be a strong defense.
By establishing an attorney-client relationship with a criminal defense lawyer from a local law firm, defendants can get the legal advice they need to protect their future from the serious consequences of a conviction.
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.
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