What does it mean?
When you receive a traffic ticket, there will be a court date near the bottom. If you fail to show up to court on that date, or otherwise address your ticket before that date, the court will say that you failed to appear. The consequences for a failure to appear vary depending on the type of ticket and the particular court. We will discuss the various consequences below.
Failure to appear for a criminal traffic ticket.
When you receive a criminal traffic ticket, what usually happens is called a cite and release. This means that you are cited with a violation, and then released to carry on driving. When the police officer stopped you and issued you the ticket, you were technically arrested. The officer then released you with the condition that you promised to appear in court on a particular date. When you sign your name on the criminal traffic ticket, you are promising to appear for that court date. An officer could arrest you and take you into custody, but this rarely happens in traffic cases unless the officer is particularly irritated with you, or if you refuse to sign. You won't receive further notice of your court date after you receive your ticket.
What happens when you fail to appear for a court date in your criminal case?
The court will charge you with A.R.S. 13-2506A2, Failure to Appear, a class 2 misdemeanor, and issue a bench warrant for your arrest. The court will also issue an order to the Arizona MVD to suspend your driving privileges. This can all create a lot of problems for you. If you are pulled over, for example, you could be arrested, your car impounded, and you could be charged with driving on a suspended license, a class 1 misdemeanor. If you have failed to appear for a criminal court date, you definitely want to address it as soon as possible. Some courts will not issue a warrant until about a week after the missed court date, whereas others will issue one immediately.
How do you deal with a criminal failure to appear charge?
This will vary from court to court. Some courts will quash the warrant and lift the license suspension order upon the filling of a Motion to Quash. Other courts will require the payment of a bond, usually $500, before they will quash the warrant. The idea of the bond is that it will secure your appearance at future court dates. If you fail to appear again, you forfeit the bond. Otherwise, upon the conclusion of your case, your bond will be applied to any fines assessed, and the remainder, if any, will be refunded to you.
Once you have gotten the warrant quashed, you can proceed with your case. Most of the time, your case will be resolved with some sort of plea agreement wherein the failure to appear charge is dismissed.
Failure to appear for a civil traffic ticket.
When you fail to appear for the court date on a civil traffic ticket, the consequences are very different from a criminal case. We often see a lot of confusion though because courts use the same "failure to appear" language for both criminal and civil cases. In practice though, civil and criminal cases are treated very differently.
There are never any arrest warrants issued in civil cases. If you do not appear on your court date, the court cannot issue a warrant for your arrest, and there will not be a separate criminal charge for a failure to appear.
When you do not show up for your court date for a civil ticket, the court will enter what is called a "default judgment" against you. This means that the court has found that 1) you were provided proper notice of the court date, and 2) you did not show up. The court then finds you responsible for the civil violation and imposes a fine. Because you were not there to pay the fine, the court also issues an order to suspend your driving privileges until you pay the fine.
Some courts will give you a grace period. Scottsdale for instance provides a 10 day grace period. When a defendant misses a civil court date, the court begins texting and mailing the defendant. If the defendant still does not take action, then the court will enter a default judgment after the 10 days run.
Most courts do not provide any grace period.
Options to address a failure to appear in a civil traffic case.
When you fail to appear and a default judgement is entered, there are two options:
- Pay the fine.
- File a motion to set aside the default judgment.
If you take option one and pay the fine, this will clear any suspension and resolve the matter. The violation will also show up on your driving history.
If you want any chance of the violation not showing up on your driving history, you need to take option 2. Unfortunately, courts do not have to set aside a default judgment. We see mixed results on motions to set aside defaults. The outcome depends upon a number of factors. These factors include how much time has passed since the default was entered, what court the case is in, and the specific factual circumstances of the case. IF you can get the default set aside, then you have additional options such as requesting a civil traffic hearing or perhaps taking defensive driving school.