In the State of California, if you're released on your own recognizance after having been cited for an infraction or charged with a more serious crime, you're asked to sign a written agreement promising to appear in court at your appointed date and time.
If you willfully violate this promise and don't show up, this is referred to as violating a written promise to appear in court or, more simply, “failure to appear.” California Penal Code 853.7 PC makes it a crime to break this promise.
PC 853.7 says, “Any person who willfully violates his or her written promise to appear or a lawfully granted continuance of his or her promise to appear in court is guilty of a misdemeanor, regardless of the disposition of the charge upon which he or she was originally arrested.”
A few common examples include when you fail to show up for a traffic citation after signing a court document that you promise to appear or not show up for a sentencing hearing after giving a written promise.
If convicted of failing to appear, you could face up to six months in jail and any penalties incurred by the original offense. Let's review this state law in more detail below.
What Is a Written Promise to Appear in Court?
A written promise to appear in court is a document signed by the accused, in which they agree to attend their scheduled court proceedings to answer for a crime or infraction. It is usually served by default when law enforcement cites you for an infraction, such as a traffic ticket.
For such infractions, you can either pay the fine and be released from your promise to appear, or you're expected to appear in court at your scheduled date/time to contest the ticket.
When appearing in court, you should bring any necessary documentation, such as identification, copies of the written promise to appear, and any other relevant paperwork.
These documents can help demonstrate compliance with the court's requirements and may prevent misunderstandings. If you fail to show up for your court appearance, you can be charged with a crime under PC 853.7. To convict you, prosecutors must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- You signed a promise to appear in court, either when you were cited/charged or with a motion for a PC 1050 continuance; and
- You willfully failed to appear at your court appearance's scheduled time and location.
The term “willfully” means it was on purpose or an intentional act. Notably, you can still be found guilty of violating PC 853.7 even if you are innocent of the underlying crime.
What Are the Related Crimes?
There are a few California laws that are related to Penal Code 853.7 PC violating a written promise to appear in court, including the following:
- Penal Code 1320 PC – failure to appear after O.R. release;
- Penal Code 1320.5 PC – failure to appear after release on bail;
- Vehicle Code 40508 VC – failure to appear for a traffic citation.
What are the Penalties for 853.7?
A violation of PC 853.7 constitutes a misdemeanor offense. If convicted, you could face the following penalties:
- Up to 6 months in county jail, and
- A fine of up to $1000.
This penalty may be in addition to any other penalties incurred by the original infraction, misdemeanor, or felony. In addition, failing to appear can result in the following consequences:
In addition, the prosecutors and the judge may interpret your absence from court as an attempt to evade justice, which could weaken your defense and lead to harsher penalties if convicted.
Common Defenses Against PC 853.7
The critical element in proving you violated your promise to appear is willfulness. In other words, the prosecution must demonstrate that your failure to appear was intentional.
Thus, the most common strategy for combatting charges under PC 853.7 is that you did not intend to violate your promise to appear. Examples of strategies that our California criminal defense lawyer can use are discussed below.
Perhaps we can argue that there was a lack of knowledge. Your attorney may argue that you were unaware of your scheduled court date. This defense may require presenting evidence such as proof of a change of address, mail delivery issues, or other circumstances that prevented you from receiving a court summons.
Perhaps we can argue that there were unavoidable circumstances. Suppose you can show that they could not attend court due to circumstances beyond their control, such as a medical emergency, natural disaster, or transportation issues.
In that case, you can argue that your absence was not willful. This defense typically requires providing documentation or evidence to support your claims, such as medical records or travel itineraries.
Perhaps we can argue there was a mistake or misunderstanding. If you can prove that you misunderstood the terms of your written promise to appear or made an honest mistake regarding the date, time, or location of your court appearance, the charges may be dismissed because your actions were not willful.
Perhaps we can argue that was insufficient or improper notice. If you can demonstrate that the summons or notice to appear in court was improperly served or contained incorrect information, you can argue that your failure to appear was not willful.
Perhaps we can argue that there was actual attendance. Sometimes, the court charges someone under PC 853.7 due to a clerical error in which they mistakenly assume you failed to appear.
If you can prove that you did attend the scheduled court proceeding, then there was no violation of the written promise to appear. You'll need to provide documentation or evidence to support your claim, such as witness statements, security footage, or signed attendance records from the court.
You can contact us for a case review by phone or via the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, CA.