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Consequences of Failing to Appear in Court

by Lindsay Chambers

Missing a court date in California is a potentially severe offense that can complicate your legal situation. Whether due to oversight or deliberate avoidance, it can lead to harsh consequences, depending on your original charge.

What Constitutes Failure to Appear?

In California, failing to appear is a “wobbler,” which means it is either a felony or misdemeanor.

  • FTA on a felony charge (California Penal Code 1320 and 1320.5): If a judge releases you on your own recognizance and you fail to appear for a court date related to a felony charge, the consequences of this second felony can be severe, including additional fines and prison time.
  • FTA on a misdemeanor charge (California Vehicle Code 40508): Failing to appear after a traffic citation or any other misdemeanor charge can lead to a misdemeanor offense, which could result in further fines, a potential jail sentence and a possible suspension of your driving privileges.

Immediate and Long-Term Consequences of Failing to Appear

Several immediate actions can occur if you willfully fail to appear in court after a judge orders you to be there on a specific date.

  • Bench warrant: The judge may issue a bench warrant for your arrest. This warrant authorizes law enforcement to arrest you wherever and whenever they can find you – potentially at your home or workplace.
  • Hold on driver’s license: The court may request that the DMV suspend your driver’s license if you fail to appear in court for a traffic or vehicle violation.
  • Increased bail: If you are arrested on a bench warrant, the court may increase your bail amount, considering your failure to appear as a factor in determining your flight risk.

The long-term repercussions of an FTA can be far-reaching. First, having a conviction on your criminal record can hold you back from many opportunities. If found guilty of FTA, you might also face increased penalties related to your original charge because a judge may rule that failing to appear in court is an aggravating factor.

Legal Defenses and Strategies

Despite the severity of FTA charges, an experienced attorney can try several tactics to get them reduced or dismissed.

  • Lack of notice: Your attorney may argue that you did not willfully fail to appear if you can prove that you never received official notification of the court date.
  • Mistake or misunderstanding: Demonstrating that the failure to appear was due to a genuine misunderstanding or a reasonable mistake may mitigate the charges.
  • Unforeseen circumstances: Circumstances beyond your control, such as a medical emergency, can be a valid defense if properly documented and presented by your attorney.
  • Negotiations: An attorney can negotiate with the court to recall or quash the bench warrant, especially if you immediately make good-faith efforts to reschedule and attend a new court date.

How Brower Law Can Help

At Brower Law, we understand that failing to appear in court can happen for many reasons, not all of which are within your control. Ronald Brower brings four decades of experience in Southern California criminal defense, providing skilled representation against the complexities of FTA charges. Our goal is to minimize the potential damage to your life and livelihood by advocating for your rights and presenting a robust defense.

You must act quickly if you miss a court date and now face the consequences of failing to appear. Set up a consultation to discuss your legal options and strategize an effective response to the situation.

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