Failure to Appear in Court in California
If you are scheduled to appear in court, some situations could make it impossible for you to make it to the legal proceeding. If this happens, you need to be aware of the potential implications.
In California, a “failure to appear” defines a scenario where somebody who is legally required to appear in a court of law, but willfully fails to show up. A failure to appear is also called an “FTP,” defined under several California Penal Code and Vehicle Code Sections reviewed below.
If you willfully fail to appear, the judge will typically issue a bench warrant for your arrest and potentially face additional criminal charges. The mandate to appear in court usually occurs after a person:
- was ordered to reappear for a future court date,
- signed a written promise to appear,
- issued a subpoena to appear in court.
An FTP can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony crime, depending on what you were initially charged with. Our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys will review this topic in more detail below.
Which California Penal Codes Apply to a Failure to Appear?
Penal Code 1320 PC is the statute that explicitly impacts people released on their own recognizance and fails to appear in court later.
Penal Code 1320.5 PC is similar to Penal Code 1320 PC above, but it covers a failure to appear in court after you were released on bail.
Penal Code 1214.1 PC is the statute that imposes a fine on someone who fails to appear in court for a court-ordered criminal proceeding. If you fail to show up, you could be fined $300.
Penal Code 853.7 PC makes it a misdemeanor crime to violate a written promise to appear in court willfully.
What About Failing to Appear for a Traffic Violation?
Failure to appear in court for a traffic violation is also a crime. This type of violation typically includes failure to appear for a speeding ticket, driving without car insurance, a DUI, and reckless driving.
California Vehicle Code 40508 VC covers the offense of failing to appear in court for a traffic ticket. Which is a misdemeanor that carries the following penalties:
- six months in county jail; and
- a fine, not greater than $1000; and
- suspension of your driver's license.
Vehicle Code 40509.5 VC allows additional penalties and gives the DMV the legal authority to place a hold on your driver's license if you fail to appear in court for a traffic citation. Your driving privileges are suspended until a fine is paid.
What Are the Penalties for FTP?
The punishments for failing to appear in court will depend on the underlying charge. If your original charge were a misdemeanor crime, your failure to appear would typically carry up to six months in county jail, a fine not to exceed $1000, or both time in prison and a fine.
If your original charge was a felony crime, then the failure to appear will generally carry the following penalties:
- a fine up to $5,000 if you were released on your own recognizance and a $10,000 fine if you were released on bail; or
- up to 3 years in a California state prison; or
- both prison time and fines.
What is the Difference Between a Bench and an Arrest Warrant?
If you fail to appear in court as ordered, the judge will typically issue a bench warrant or an arrest warrant, depending on your original reason for appearing in court.
If a bench warrant were issued, your name would be added to a database. If you come into contact with police, they could run your name and arrest you for the active bench warrant, regardless of why you were detained.
However, a criminal arrest warrant could indicate that law enforcement is actively seeking your arrest and bringing you into custody. This could mean all hours of the day, at your place of employment, or even in the middle of the night at your home.
What are Legal Defenses for Failure to Appear in Court?
If you have been accused of failing to appear in court, we might be able to get the charge reduced or dismissed, depending on the details. Some of the most common defenses include that it was not a willful act and there was no attempt to avoid the court process. Let's take a closer look below.
No willful act - If you are accused of violatingPenal Codes 1320 and 1320.5 PC, we might be able to make a challenge based on the languages in the statutes. For example, we could argue that you did not "willfully” fail to appear."
The prosecution has to prove you had willful intentions to miss the court date to be found guilty. Without this element of the offense, a conviction might not occur.
No attempt to evade the court process – We might be able to make an argument that you did notintend "to evade the process of the court."
You are not guilty of a violation of this specific intent is absent. Perhaps you had an emergency and were unable to make the court appearance.
No good cause – If you are accused of violatingPenal Code 1214.1 PC, we might be able to argue that you had a "good cause" for failing to appear.
Perhaps this defense could prove effective because one of the elements a prosecutor has to prove is that you ignored the notice without good cause. If you were charged with a failure to appear in a California criminal courtroom, our top-ranked criminal defense firm could give you the best chance at a favorable outcome.
Cron, Israels & Stark is located in Los Angeles County, and we serve people across Southern California. To review your FTP details, call us at (424) 372-3112 or fill out the contact form.