When you’re issued a traffic ticket in California, you’re committing to being at court on the date designated on that ticket. Sometimes, individuals may falsely assume they’ll get a court date by phone or in the mail and forget to show up on that day. Sometimes, people can’t get the time off work to attend their court date. Whatever the reason, missing your court date can lead to additional criminal charges.
If you’re in a situation where you’ve been charged, it’s understandable to be worried. However, there’s no need to panic! This step-by-step guide will take you through what exactly a Failure To Appear is, the consequences of being charged with one, and how to clear one.
What Is a Failure To Appear?
When you sign the traffic ticket issued to you by a law enforcement officer, you agree to show up in court on the designated date. In California’s Vehicle Code, this is called a “Release Upon Promise To Appear.” Since most traffic offenses are infractions, there’s no need for an officer to arrest you and take you to jail, meaning you instead agree to handle things in court later.
If you don’t attend court at the time and date you agreed to, you’ll be charged with Failure To Appear. It doesn’t matter if you had an emergency that prevented you from attending court. You’ll have to settle that down and make your case. Next, we’ll review some consequences you might face when charged with Failure To Appear.
What Are the Consequences of Failure To Appear?
Failing to appear in court or not paying your fines can lead to further consequences. Here’s a breakdown of what to expect:
- Fines: According to the Superior Court of California, failing to appear in court or pay your fine by the designated date will lead to an additional $100 civil charge. This is in addition to whatever your original penalties were, and another $100 is added for any subsequent missed court dates or due dates. You will also be referred to a collection agency, which can negatively impact your credit score, as well as possible wage garnishment, tax liens, refund intercepts, and bank levies.
- New Charges: Even if you are not found guilty of the original charge you were given, California Vehicle Code states that failing to appear in court or paying fines on time will result in the individual being found guilty of a misdemeanor charge.
- Warrants: The Superior Court of California says that failing to appear in court or paying a fine on time may lead to a bench warrant being issued. This means that law enforcement officers are authorized to arrest the person named in the bench warrant and bring them to court to address their failure to appear. In reality, judges rarely issue bench warrants for minor traffic infractions.
- License Suspension: According to California Vehicle Code, failing to pay a fine or installment for a traffic violation in the time designated by the court, they will “impound the person’s driver’s license and order the person not to drive for a period not to exceed 30 days. Before returning the license to the person, the court shall endorse on the reverse side of the license that the person was ordered not to drive, the period for which that order was made, and the name of the court making the order.” You will not be able to get your license back until after you’ve dealt with any remaining fines and fees.
Types of Failure To Appear
A Failure To Appear charge can be filed if someone misses court for any reason when they are legally obligated to be there. That can include jury duty, testifying as a witness, and of course, traffic violations. In the case of traffic violations, failing to pay or comply with your violation is handled under the same umbrella of charges. In the Superior Court of California, this is called “Failure To Appear, Pay, or Comply.”
Can You Go to Traffic School for Failure To Appear?
Depending on your underlying traffic charge, a judge may determine that you are obligated to attend traffic school in addition to any fees or fines. There are also instances where attending traffic school can “mask” a ticket, meaning it won’t be reported to your insurance company (which can lead to increased rates).
If a court has ordered you to attend traffic school, consider attending the Best Online Traffic School in California, which is affordable and fast.
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How To Fight Failure To Appear Violation?
So you’ve been charged with a Failure To Appear violation. What now? Here’s a step-by-step breakdown for fighting your charge:
- Be proactive and show up to court. You’ll likely find out you’ve received a Failure To Appear violation through a notice in the mail. The first step is to bring that notice down to the courthouse. Follow the instructions on your ticket and find the right customer service window to get your next steps. In most cases, you’ll be required to post bail on your case and set a court date for your arraignment.
- Get a copy of your original ticket. The traffic clerk should be able to get you a copy of your original ticket if you lost yours. This is an important piece of documentation to have.
- Attend your arraignment and plead not guilty. By this step, the court should have issued a date to attend your arraignment for the Failure To Appear violation. If you plan on fighting your case, you should plead not guilty before the judge. Be advised there are only a few valid legal arguments for failing to appear in court:
- You were experiencing a medical emergency or were hospitalized.
- You were incarcerated under a separate charge.
- You were involved in an accident that prevented you from getting to court.
- Attend the court date for your original charge and pay the required fines. A Failure To Appear violation is added on top of any underlying charge. You will still need to settle your original traffic violation through the court by pleading your case, paying any fines, or completing required traffic school.
- Consider alternative solutions. If you know you don’t have a valid legal defense for missing court or paying a fine late, you must put yourself at the court’s mercy and do everything in your power to receive a lenient punishment.
How To Write a Trial by the Written Declaration for Failure To Appear?
Instead of dealing with the hassle of going to court for a traffic ticket, California residents can contest the charge through a Trial by Written Declaration (TBWD). This is a good way to avoid the possibility of being charged with a Failure To Appear. If you want to fight your traffic offense with a TBWD, follow these steps:
- Request a TBWD. Your request for a TBWD must be made within 45 days of the original citation.
- Pay your bail. Just like when showing up to court with a Failure To Appear, you have to pay the bail on your case right away. This will be refunded afterward if you win your case.
- State the facts. After filling out the basic information needed on a TBWD, you’ll be asked for a “Written Declaration.” In this section, you should clearly state the facts of your case to your best recollection and provide any evidence that may support your case. Evidence may include witness testimony, photos, or videos. Double-check that everything is correct before moving forward.
- Sign and date. Ensure that everything you’ve provided is truthful and accurate, then sign and date the paperwork.
- Submit the TBWD. You’ll have a deadline from the court by which you’ll need to submit your TBWD. This can typically be done by mail or in person at the courthouse.
- Wait for the court’s decision. The court will have the opportunity to review the TBWD you submitted, and the officer will also have the opportunity to submit their own account of what happened.
- Request another trial if necessary. If the court still ends up finding you guilty after you’ve submitted a TBWD, you have the opportunity to appeal and attend court in person. This is a good opportunity to hire an attorney to help with a fresh case.
Should I Hire a Lawyer for Failure To Appear?
A Failure To Appear tends to be a somewhat cut-and-dry violation. This means that defending yourself in a case can be difficult. A traffic lawyer who is better versed in the procedures and staff at the court may be in a position where they can get your case pleaded down or get fines and fees reduced. At the end of the day, it’s a personal decision that should factor in the complexity of your case and the maximum amount of fines or fees you could face.
You may also want to consider your own comfort factor, as dealing with a Failure To Appear violation and a traffic offense can result in you attending court for several days. Some people may find their legal knowledge and understanding lacking, so having a lawyer with them can be comforting and alleviate some of the stress involved with the court.
How Much Does Failure To Appear Cost?
As we covered earlier in the article, every Failure To Appear, Pay or Comply charge comes with a $100 civil fine added to your original charge. With the addition of court costs, a Failure To Appear violation can wind up costing upwards of $500-$1000. This doesn’t include other ways that court can cost you money, like increased insurance rates and lost wages from taking a day off of work.
How about failing to deal with your Failure To Appear violation? According to Simmrin Law Group, you could face fines of up to $1000 and possibly up to 6 months in jail.
There’s no question that the best defense for a Failure To Appear is never to receive one in the first place. Whenever you receive a ticket in the state of California, you must read it carefully and attend any court date designated by the court.