Let’s say you are charged with a crime. After you are released from custody, you are ordered to return for a court date in a few days time.

What happens if you just don’t go?

If you willfully fail to appear at a required court date, you can be charged with “Failure to Appear” (CA Penal Code 1320 & 1320.5). The judge will issue a bench warrant, and police will show up at your house to arrest you and bring you to court.

Failure to Appear can be a misdemeanor or felony. This is based on what you were originally charged with. As a misdemeanor, a FTA charge can add six months in county jail and $1,000 in fines to the penalties you are already facing.

As a felony, it is punishable by up to three additional years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.

What is ‘Failure to Appear’?

california failure to appear lawsIn order to convict you of “Failure to Appear” the prosecutor will have to prove four things:

  1. You were originally charged with or convicted of a crime in California;
  2. You were then released from custody;
  3. You willfully failed to appear at a required court date; and
  4. You did this intentionally to “evade the process of the court.”

If you have been released from custody after being charged or pleading guilty to a crime, you likely either 1) posted bail or 2) were given an “own recognizance” release, which is a release that does not require bail.

Typically, defendants who are given “own recognizance” releases are required to sign a written agreement that they will:

  1. Appear in court when ordered to;
  2. Obey all conditions imposed by the court;
  3. Not leave the state without permission;

These agreements are required under California law, but it is the court’s responsibility to make sure you signed one. If you are released without bail and don’t sign an “own recognizance” agreement, then — good news — it’s not possible for you to be convicted of “Failure to Appear.”

Lastly, “intentionally evading the process of the court” means that you specifically tried to skip your appearance to get around the consequences. If, say, an emergency came up or if someone physically prevented you from going to court, this may not be FTA if you informed the court in a reasonable amount of time.

If you skip your date, and they don’t hear from you within 14 days, they will presume that you did it on purpose.

Penalties and Jail Time for ‘Failure to Appear’

failure to appearThere are three possible penalties for “Failure to Appear,” and it depends on what you were originally charged with:

  1. If you were charged with or convicted of a misdemeanor and released on your own recognizance, then you could face:
    1. Misdemeanor probation,
    2. Up to six months in county jail, and/or
    3. A fine of up to $1,000
  2. If you faced felony charges and were released on your own recognizance, then penalties will rise to:
    1. Felony probation,
    2. Up to a year in county jail, or up to three years in state prison, and/or
    3. A fine of up to $5,000
  3. Lastly, felony charges that required bail for release would receive the stiffed possible punishments:
    1. Felony probation,
    2. Up to a year in county jail, or up to three years in state prison, and/or
    3. A fine of up to $10,000.

Of course, if you posted bail, you’ll probably not get that money back.

Defenses for ‘Failure to Appear’ Charges

As we mentioned earlier, “willfullness” and “intent to evade” are key elements of California’s “Failure to Appear” law.

If you genuinely didn’t know about a court date — or some other factor prevents you from making it to court — as long as you acted responsibly afterward and did your best to make things right with the court, they wouldn’t be able to prove that you willfully or intentionally tried to miss your court date.

And lastly, if you were released on your own recognizance and didn’t sign an agreement to return to court, then, when working with a skilled criminal defense attorney that can research your case history, you can work for a speedy dismissal.

If you have been charged with “Failure to Appear”, call today for your free case review – 800-834-6434