California Laws and Defenses For Failure to Appear in Court
If you are a defendant in a criminal case and you fail to show up for a scheduled court appearance, then the judge will normally issue a warrant for your arrest.
Sometimes circumstances occur and you cannot make it to the legal proceeding, or you just decided not show up after you were released from custody and ordered back at a later date.
In these instances, it's important to understand the potential implications.
In California, a “failure to appear” describes a situation where someone who was legally required to personally appear in court, but they willfully failed to show up.
Failure to appear crimes, commonly known as “FTP,” are defined under several California Penal Code and Vehicle Code Sections discussed below.
If you willfully fail to appear, it will normally result in the judge issuing a bench warrant for your arrest, and additional criminal charges could be filed against you.
The legal mandate to appear in the criminal court normally occurs after someone:
- was ordered by the judge to reappear for a future court date,
- signed a written promise to appear,
- issued a subpoena to appear in court.
A failure to appear can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony, depending on what specifically you were charged with.
For more information, our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers are providing a detailed review below.
Which Penal Codes Apply to a Failure to Appear in Court?
Penal Code 1320 PC: This statute specifically impacts individuals who were released on their own recognizance and makes it a crime if you fail to appear.
Penal Code 1320.5 PC: This statute is similar to Penal Code 1320 PC; however, it is for failure to appear in court for those released on bail.
Penal Code 1214.1 PC: This statute imposes a fine on people who fail to appear in court for a court ordered criminal proceeding. It states anyone who willfully fails to show up in court will be fined $300.
Penal Code 853.7 PC: This statute makes it a misdemeanor crime for someone who willfully violates a written promise to appear in court.
Failure to Appear for a Traffic Violation
Although failure to appear in court for a traffic violation is not covered under California Penal Code, it is still a crime.
This type of violation includes failing to appear for a speeding ticket, driving without insurance, reckless driving, and more.
California Vehicle Code 40508 VC is the appropriate statute that applies if a person fails to appear in court for a traffic ticket.
When this occurs, if convicted, the violation is charged as a misdemeanor and could result in:
- six months in county jail; and/or
- a fine not to exceed $1000; and/or
- a suspension of your driver's license.
Vehicle Code 40509.5 VC allows an additional penalty when someone is in violation of Vehicle Code 40508 VC.
It gives the DMV the authority to place a hold on their driver's license if they fail to appear in court for a traffic citation. This of course means their driving privileges are suspended until a fine is paid.
Penalties and Jail Time for Failure to Appear
As stated, the punishments for failing to appear in court will depend on the original charge.
If your original charge was a misdemeanor, then your failure to appear will also be considered a misdemeanor. Some possible penalties are:
- up to six months in county jail; or
- a fine not to exceed $1000; or
- both time in jail and a fine.
Similarly, if your original charge was a felony, then the failure to appear will also be a felony. Penalties for failure to appear might include:
- a maximum fine of $5000 if you were released on your own recognizance and up to a $10,000 fine if you were released on bail; or
- up to 3 years in state prison; or
- both prison time and the fine.
Difference Between an Arrest Warrant and a Bench Warrant
If you fail to appear in court, the judge might issue a bench warrant or an arrest warrant.
The choice will vary, depending on what your original reason was for appearing in court.
A bench warrant results in your name being added to a database. If you encounter the police in the future, the police could then arrest you on the bench warrant, regardless of the reason for the encounter.
On the other hand, a criminal arrest warrant indicates that the police are actively seeking you so that they can arrest you and bring you into custody.
There is no limit to when or where they could arrest you—it could be the middle of the night, at home, or work. It doesn't matter.
What are Potential Legal Defenses to Failure to Appear in Court?
If you were accused of failing to appear in court, then our criminal defense lawyers might be able to get the charged reduced of dismissed.
The most common defenses include it was not a willful act and there was no attempt to avoid the court process.
No willful act
For Penal Codes 1320 and 1320.5 PC, two possible defenses that our skilled defense lawyers might choose are a direct result of the statutes' language.
First, might be able to demonstrate that the defendant didn't "willfully fail to appear." The key word in that statement is 'willfully.'
For a defendant to be found guilty of these statutes, the prosecution must prove that the defendant had willful intentions to miss the court date. Without the willful component, a conviction might not occur.
No attempt to evade the court process
Second, we might be able to demonstrate that the defendant didn't intend "to evade the process of the court."
In other words, if this intention is missing, the defendant would not be guilty of a violation.
An example might be that the defendant needed to pick up a child in an emergency or a bad accident that detained them.
For Penal Code 1214.1 PC, a possible defense would be that the defendant had a "good cause" for their failure to appear.
This could be an effective defense because one of the elements a prosecutor must prove is that the defendant ignored the notice "without good cause."
Like the intention to evade example, an emergency might constitute a "good cause," depending on the circumstances.
If you have been charged with a failure to appear in a California criminal courtroom, our top 1% US criminal defense firm at Eisner Gorin LLP can give you the best chance at a favorable outcome.
To review the details of your case, call our law firm at (310) 328-3776, or contact our office online.