Vehicle Code 40508a VC – Failure to Appear on a Traffic Citation

Updated


Vehicle Code 40508a VC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to fail to appear in court for a traffic citation. A violation of the law is a misdemeanor. This is true even if the original traffic violation was only for an infraction.

40508a VC states that “a person willfully violating his or her written promise to appear or a lawfully granted continuance of his or her promise to appear in court or before a person authorized to receive a deposit of bail is guilty of a misdemeanor regardless of the disposition of the charge upon which he or she was originally arrested.”

Examples

Excuses

Judges have wide discretion in accepting or rejecting excuses for failing to appear in court. Several excuses that may convince the court include showing that:

  1. the defendant did not willfully fail to appear.
  2. the accused never signed an agreement to appear in court.
  3. an emergency prevented the defendant from making the court appearance.

Penalties

A violation of this statute is a misdemeanor. This is opposed to a felony charge or an infraction.

The offense is punishable by:

  • custody in county jail for up to six months, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.

A judge can award misdemeanor (or summary) probation in lieu of jail time.

Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

man shocked at missed court date
Vehicle Code 40508 VC makes it a crime for a person to fail to appear in court for a traffic citation.

1. When is the failure to appear in court for a traffic citation a crime?

A prosecutor must prove the following to convict a defendant under 40508a VC:

  1. the defendant received a traffic citation,
  2. in connection with it, the defendant signed a written promise to appear in court, and
  3. the defendant willfully failed to appear in court.1

Someone commits an act “willfully” when he/she does it willingly or on purpose. It is not required that the person intended to:

  • break the law,
  • hurt someone else, or
  • gain any advantage.2

Note that a prosecutor does not have to show that the accused was guilty of the underlying ticket. A person violates this law just by breaking a promise to:

  • appear in court,
  • appear to pay bail,
  • pay bail in installments,
  • pay a fine within the time authorized, or
  • comply with any condition of the court.3

2. What are some valid excuses for failure to appear?

There are a few excuses that an accused can use to avoid getting penalized under this statute.

Three common excuses are:

  1. the defendant did not fail to appear on purpose.
  2. the accused never signed an agreement to appear in court.
  3. an emergency prevented the defendant from making the court appearance.

2.1. No willful failure

Recall that an accused is only guilty under this statute if he/she “willfully” failed to appear in court. This term means that a defendant missed a court date on purpose.

It is a defense, therefore, for an accused to say that a failure to appear was not done willingly. Perhaps, for example, a defendant missed a court date on accident.

2.2. No signed agreement

Also recall that a defendant is guilty only if he/she failed to appear after signing a promise to show up in court. This means it is always a defense for an accused to show that he did not sign any agreement.

2.3. Emergency

A defendant can always say that he failed to make a court appearance because of an emergency.

Some examples of an emergency that may excuse someone from not making a court date are:

  • a car accident,
  • a serious health issue, or
  • a death of an immediate family member.

Note that if an emergency does arise, the defendant should:

  1. inform his/her defense attorney of the situation, and/or
  2. have a close friend or family member appear in court on his/her behalf.
man behind bars for missing court date; failure to appear on a traffic violation can lead to up to 6 months in jail per 40508a VC
A violation of this law can result in a fine and/or jail time

3. Does 40508a VC carry fines and jail time?

A violation of Vehicle Code 40508a is a misdemeanor.

The crime is punishable by:

  • custody in county jail (as opposed to state prison) for up to six months, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.4

A violation of the law can also lead to:

  • the possible loss of a person's driving privileges for up to 30 days, and
  • a hold on the defendant's driver's license, per VC 40509.5.

4. Can the record of conviction be expunged?

A person can get an expungement if convicted of failure to appear.

A convicted party gets awarded an expungement if he successfully completes:

  • probation, or
  • his jail term (whichever is applicable).

Note that an expungement removes many of the hardships associated with a conviction.

5. Can failure to appear be charged in other code sections?

There are three crimes related to the failure to appear in court for a traffic citation. These are:

  1. failure to appear – PC 1320/1320.5
  2. violating a written promise to appear – PC 853.7, and
  3. hold on a driver's license – VC 40509.5.

5.1. Failure to appear – PC 1320/1320.5

Penal Code 1320 PC makes it a crime for people to fail to appear in court when:

  1. they have been released from custody on their own recognizance, and
  2. they are required to appear in court via a court order.

Penal Code 1320.5 PC makes it a crime for people to fail to appear in court when:

  1. they have been released from custody on bail, and
  2. they are required to appear in court via a court order.

5.2. Violating a written promise to appear – PC 853.7

Penal Code 853.7 PC says it is a crime for a person to willfully violate his written promise to appear in court.

A defendant often signs a written agreement to appear when:

  1. released from custody, and
  2. the release is on his or her own recognizance.

Note that VC 40508a applies to court dates for traffic citations. This statute applies to any criminal proceeding.

5.3. Hold on a driver's license – VC 40509.5

Vehicle Code 40509.5 VC authorizes the State to:

  1. put a hold on a person's driver's license, and
  2. do so if the person failed to appear in traffic court for a ticket.

A hold on a driver's license:

  • can result in the suspension of a driver's driving privileges, and
  • it remains in place until a motorist appears in court or pays the applicable fine.

For additional help...

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Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense attorney, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

For information on similar laws in Nevada, please see our articles on: “Nevada Laws re Failure to Appear (NRS 199.335).”


Legal References:

  1. CALCRIM No. 2240 - Failure to Appear. Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (2017 edition).

  2. See same. See also People v. Lara (1996) 44 Cal.App.4th 102; and, People v. Anderson (2011) 51 Cal.App.4th 989.

  3. California Vehicle Code 40508a VC.

  4. See same. See also California Penal Code 19 PC.

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