What is a failure to appear (FTA)?
A failure to appear or VC40508 (A) occurs when you do not appear in court for a traffic ticket. Many people are under the false assumption that he/she will receive a notice in the mail about when to appear in court on a traffic ticket. The truth is that when you sign your traffic ticket you are making a contract with the State of California and on the bottom of the contract you have signed agreeing to appear in court on a specific date.
I received notice that I failed to appear, now what?
Okay so you did not appear on the date identified on your ticket, or you made an extension and then forgot to appear. Now what? Well you need to take the better part of a day off from work, drive to the court location identified on your ticket to clear up your mistake. Once there you need to go to the GC Services window. The clerk will likely require you to post bail on your case (this can range dramatically depending upon your underlying citation), then they will ask you if you would like a court date. The court date is an arraignment date which is when you will have the opportunity to hear what the charges are against you and you can plea (guilty / not guilty). Once you have your arraignment date you now get to wait in line to speak with a Traffic Clerk. You need to do this because the next step is to obtain an Abstract, which is only issued by a traffic clerk.
Getting the abstract and beyond
At the traffic window you will want to give the clerk the same case information you gave to the GC services clerk and request an abstract. The cost is $10 - be sure to keep your receipt as proof of payment. The abstract is what clears the hold that is placed on your DMV license. Typically the hold will be cleared on your license within 24-48 hours of obtaining the abstract. The abstract is processed electronically and submitted directly to the DMV by the court. At this point you now need to remember to appear for your arraignment date, if you miss this date then you will have a double failure to appear on your hands which is a much larger issue to solve.
Arraignment and trial.
I have cleared my FTA, now what.? Appear at your arraignment and either plead guilty, not guilty or no contest. You will spend the better part of your morning waiting to appear at court. Once the judge takes the bench, he/she will likely ask you why you failed to appear on your original court date. There are only a few legal defenses to not appearing - incarceration, deportation, and hospitalization. That said, a skilled attorney may be able to help you dismiss the failure to appear charge. I always advise my clients to try because the fines and fees for a FTA can be high, at a minimum an attorney may be able to get you a reduced fine. Finally, if you have the time be sure to set your ticket for a court trial. You will again need to spend a day in court. Best case scenario the officer does not appear and you ask the court to dismiss the case. Worse case scenario the officer does appear - if this occurs it is up to you on how to defend your case.
Should I hire an attorney?
I believe it to be a good use of time and resources to hire an attorney. First, on a FTA you will have to go to court on 3 different occasions and each trip will likely you cost you a half a day in court. This means taking 3 personal days from work because courts are only open M-F from 8:30-4:30. When you factor the time factor and the factor that an attorney may be able to get you a reduced fine/penalty or get your citation and the FTA cleared completely it is definitely worth while to hire an attorney. Additionally, an attorney is skilled in the language and the customs of court which adds a comfort factor for the client. My comparison is the following: I can read installation instructions on how to install wood floors for my home and likely muddle through it okay, but in the end a professional will do a better job. Similarly true here, in addition to fines and fees you may also save yourself a point or more on your record which saves you on your insurance costs.