What To Do If You Miss Your Court Date (Failure to Appear Is A Big Deal)
So you missed your date to appear in court and are wondering what to do. Either by mistake or because you did not think it was important, you ignored the notice to appear and skipped court. This guide walks you through: why it is a big deal; should not be ignored and what you need to do now.
Is Missing a Court Date a Big Deal?If you are traveling on vacation or perhaps a college student on spring break you may not be very concerned about a citation you receive from a local law enforcement officer. You may be thinking that it is like a parking ticket and you can ignore it, especially if you live in a different state. You may be telling yourself that it is just a piece of paper for underage drinking. They can't expect me to come all the way back to Florida just for a silly ticket. What's the worst that can happen, I get an additional fine in the mail? Unfortunately, those assumptions are wrong. Very wrong. If you have been given a citation, perhaps from the State Division of Alcohol Beverages and Tobacco, and it says Notice to Appear that means you have an open active case against you and that you are required to appear in court on the date set out in the citation. What happens if you do not show up? The court will find that you Failed to Appear and issue what is called a bench warrant.
Consequences of a WarrantWhat is a bench warrant? A bench warrant allows police to arrest you, whenever they find you and take you to jail. Even for a very minor infraction, like underage drinking, the failure to appear could lead to you spending time behind bars. And because you have already skipped a court date, you will most likely spend the night in jail until you can be brought before a judge. What's more, because failure to appear for a court date is a crime in and of itself, the court can find you guilty of failing to appear, even if your original charges are later dismissed. What if I live outside of Florida, a bench warrant won't hurt me in my home state will it? Yes. If you are pulled over for a simple traffic stop the bench warrant can pop up. The warrant will show up on background checks when you apply for a job. Having a warrant can also lead to the loss of government benefits such as financial aid. It can also lead to the suspension of your driving privileges in your home state.
What to Do: Getting Rid of the FTA and WarrantIf you have skipped a court date that you were required to attend a bench warrant may not yet have been issued. The warrant will be issued but there is normally a lag time between your absence and the time that the judge issues the warrant. Contact an attorney from the area where you were supposed to appear and discuss your situation with them. Often times they can file documents with the court and either have the warrant recalled or prevent a warrant from being issued in the first place. You are most likely going to have to a pay a fine, but as the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The same attorney that handles the FTA can also assist you in the underlying action. Whatever action you decide to take do not ignore it. It will not go away on its own.