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When someone is charged with a crime, they are usually ordered to appear in court on a specific day and time. If you fail to show up to court at your appointed time, you might be charged with “Failure to Appear” (FTA). This crime has a few stipulations attached to it:
– You were charged with or convicted of a California crime
– Were released from custody and
– You willfully failed to appear in court when you were supposed to “in order to evade the process of the court”
This is covered in California Penal Code 1320 and it is usually aimed at defendants who were released on their own recognizance. Penal Code 1320.5 includes defendants who were released on bail and THEN failed to appear in court.
– A defendant charged with possession of hydrocodone is released on bail and scheduled to appear in court a month later. They fail to do so because they don’t want to face the consequences or potential jail time (Penal Code 1320.5)
– A woman who is charged with vandalism is released on her own recognizance and scheduled to appear a week later. She doesn’t (Penal Code 1320)
Potential penalties will usually be relative to the crime you were charged of in the first place. For example, if you were charged with a misdemeanor, released, and failed to appear, this would also be a misdemeanor. However, if you were accused of a felony and then you fail to appear, now you’re facing ANOTHER felony charge (Felony Failure to Appear). Both of these crimes might include jail time, though a felony charge will always put you at risk for a longer amount of time in jail.
Penalties can be harsh. It can be a fine of up to $10,000 and 3 years in jail, depending on the severity of the charge you failed to appear for. When you fail to appear, a bench warrant is issued for your arrest, and this means that you will live in constant fear until that day comes when the court finally tracks you down. And they will. They always do.
If you’ve missed a court date, there are so many defenses that your defense lawyer can use. Some people legitimately get busy and forget to appear in court, and although it’s still initially a crime, sometimes the court can have great mercy on you, depending on the circumstances of your failure to appear. For example, if you had been in a car accident on the day you were scheduled to appear, then this is probably going to get the charge dismissed if you were in the hospital. You literally couldn’t appear, and the court will be able to understand that when the evidence is shown to them that you were in the hospital.
A lawyer is the person who can give you your best chance against these charges. Defending yourself reflects poorly with the court. Only a lawyer knows FTA laws inside and out and only they have experience dealing with judges in California and prosecutors who have a specific agenda in mind when they try a case. All of these parties work together for the common good.
Other potential defenses for this charge include proving that you did not “willfully” evade appearing in court to face the process of the court. This might mean you literally forgot your court date and did not willfully miss it or try to evade prosecution. This might greatly lessen the consequences of a FTA charge.
The golden rule of every charge is: Call a lawyer! Do not try to face the process of the court by yourself. So many defendants don’t know what to do after they’re charged with a crime and they are at a loss. Don’t be. There is a lawyer here who can help you face these charges and face them with integrity. Many people who fail to appear are scared and rightfully so. Criminal charges are scary. But when you have a good lawyer by your side, you should have the confidence it takes to face the court once and for all.