Everything You Need to Know About Failure to Appear

What Is A Failure To Appear (FTA) Charge?

When a person is obligated to show up for court for any reason, but does not appear, the judge may choose to issue a warrant for their arrest, known as a Failure to Appear or an FTA Bench Warrant. The most common FTA's in the U.S. involve traffic violation charges where people forget to show up for their court date. Below explains what an FTA warrant means, what options you have, and how you can properly turn yourself in for an FTA warrant.


What Can Happen If I Fail To Appear For Court?

If you do not appear in court, it is a criminal offense, and depending on circumstances, can result in additional fines, fees, and bench warrants being issued. Once a bench warrant has been issued for your arrest, several things may occur, including, but not limited to:

  • Routine traffic stops will result in arrests, if police run your information through the system.
  • You may be denied bail.
  • You may be held in jail after you are arrested.
  • You may be slapped with additional charges for failing to appear in court.
  • Your license may be suspended until your case is closed (resulting in additional fees to reinstate your license).
  • How Long Does an FTA Charge Stay On My Record?

FTA charges do not have a statute of limitations, and thus, will remain on your record until you serve the warrant. States often will not extradite people out-of-state for FTAs (unless the original charge was very serious), but FTAs will appear on any background check and will therefore result in arrests during routine traffic stops.

How Do I Get Rid Of An FTA Charge?

If you think that your charges may be categorized as “severe,” it is advised that you discuss your options with an attorney before making any decisions. That being said, once a warrant is in the system, there’s really only a few ways to get it removed:

  • By surrendering yourself and making an appearance before the judge;
  • By getting stopped by the police, getting arrested, and taken to jail until you make an appearance before the judge;
  • By having your attorney come to an agreement over the terms of the warrant (this can only happen in some misdemeanor cases).

The decision is completely up to you, but many attorneys suggest turning yourself in, under your own terms, as opposed to waiting for a possibly inopportune time to run in with the police.


What Are The Consequences Of An FTA Charge?

Since FTA charges and the circumstances surrounding them differ so greatly, it’s hard to say what your individual case’s consequences will be. As would be expected, the severity of the charges typically depends on the severity of the crime, but the court has grounds to slap you with prison or jail time, increase the terms of your probation by years, or charge you with a new crime. 

Your driver’s license may also be subject for suspension if you fail to address an FTA warrant. If the DMV decides to suspend your license, it is illegal to drive until you serve your bench warrant and receive a courtesy clearance from the courts.


How Do I Turn Myself In Correctly? What Happens When I Turn Myself In for a Bench Warrant?

Contrary to popular belief, the police will rarely arrive at your doorstep to serve a bench warrant. That being said, the consequences for FTA charges get worse and worse as time goes on, so it’s important that you turn yourself in as soon as possible. Before you turn yourself in, recognize that if you do not retain an attorney before turning yourself in, you may be unable to reach an attorney in a timely manner after being incarcerated. Further, many misdemeanor manners can be handled by an attorney without your needing to appear in the courts. Also prior to turning yourself in, it would be a good idea to set up some way of posting bail the moment you go to court. Either talk to a local bail bondsman, or work out a deal with a family member to help you out.


What Are The Rules Of Court?

Courts adhere to a strict set of rules and regulations for visitors. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Shirts and shoes are required in the courthouse
  • Food, drinks, and cell phones are not allowed
  • Weapons are not allowed and all visitors are subject to a weapons screening upon arrival
  • All electronic pagers, cell phones, computers, tablets, and laptops must be turned off
  • You must remain silent and quiet once the judicial proceedings has begun
  • You cannot communicate with any inmates at any time


What Happens To My Bail?

If you fail to appear for a court date, the original bail bond will be forfeited to your State and a new bail bond amount will be set (typically with more strict and costly amounts than the original bail). In these cases, there’s also a chance that the courts charge you with bail jumping as well. If you’ve posted collateral with a bail bondsman to cover the cost of your bail, they may hire a headhunter to bring you into court (as to avoid paying the full amount for bail), and that collateral may be subject to liquidation.


But What If I’m Innocent, What’s My Defense?

An FTA warrant doesn’t concern the details of your case. Even if you are found not guilty for charges and the case is thrown out, you are still expected to show up for any and all hearings concerning your case (if you don’t have an attorney representing you). That being said, there are two defenses that have historically held up in court: 

  • No Notice To Appear: The court is required to give you proper notice that you are supposed to appear in court. If the courts have failed to do so, then you may be able to fight the failure to appear charges. Typically, the courts will notify you by snail mail. That being said, not receiving a notice because you failed to let the courts know of an address change does not excuse your failure to appear.
  • FTA Was Not Willful: If you can argue that your failure to appear in court was not on purpose, and you can prove that you tried to do everything in your power to fulfill your obligations, you may be able to get your FTA charge dismissed. Essentially, any unforeseen circumstance that was out of your control may suffice in this defense, including serious injury, illness, natural disaster, etc.


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Revised: May 16, 2022, 8:02 a.m.
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