FTA: Failure to Appear

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:

  1. Pay the fine.
  2. 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.

Comments 16

  1. I received a letter from an attorney group trying to get monies due to santa Monica court. They say I have a fta from 2009 that was sent to GS services then the fta was sent back to the court. This is the first time that I can recall ever hearing about this. What are my options?

  2. I’m being raked over the coals on a failure to appear for a violation last year. I assumed it was all over with, because I kept checking public access records and found nothing. In fact, I’ve got a 6/6 bench date, and I was stopped by state troopers on 8/16 who specifically said “I’m surprised you don’t have a bench warrant out” I’ve been homeless since my first traffic stop and broke both my heels. I couldn’t walk, work, drive, nothing for a while. I also live remotely, being 10 miles from the nearest gas station. I drove with no lic ins or reg because everything is life threatening. If I needed food ,I had to drive. Water? Drive. Sell assets? Yeah..drive. See a doctor? Driiiiiive. Anyways. I’ve lost everything, and still managed to pay my tow fees ($1500) with no work, no assistance, nothing. Paid court fees. Truck is registered and insured through family(I paid it) paid all the DMV fees.and then they were like..oh wait….this court has a hold on your license, and we don’t know why.

  3. Why would i be charged with 2 FTA on 1 traffic ticket?

    1. Post

      Hi DJ,
      Courts use FTA in several different contexts. It can be a separate charge added to a criminal matter when a defendant fails to show up. It can also be used to indicate the entry of a default judgment in a civil traffic matter. I’m not sure what is going on in your case, but if I had to guess, I’d say there were at least two charges on the one ticket, and at least one of the charges was civil. So there may be two civil FTAs/defaults, or one civil FTA/default and one criminal FTA. It’s hard to say without more information. If you want to give our office a call, we could definitely offer more information.

  4. If I have a court date today for a DUI but I am sick and they will not let me in the building when I get there, will they give me a new court date without issuing a warrant? I did email them yesterday and I called this morning and they did say that my email was received and is under review but since it was so soon, there hasn’t been a new date issued yet. Am I okay to remain home since I am sick? Or will they still issue a warrant for my arrest? This was my initial hearing

    1. Post

      Hi Duane, I cannot say for sure what the court will do, but in our experience most courts are reasonable in these situations and will reset your court date. If for some reason the court does issue a warrant, that is something that can be easily resolved when you are feeling better, even though it would still be quite irritating.

  5. I have a FTA Warrant for driving on a suspended license. I called the court and due to covid-19 they are not allowing in person walk-ins and was told I can pay the bond that is over $1,200 that I do not have. How should I go about getting this warrant quashed?

    1. Post

      Hi Grant, That’s a tough position the court is putting you in. You could try filing a motion asking the court to quash the warrant, explaining that you want to get the case back on track and see it to conclusion, that you are willing to appear in person but due to the court’s current policies you cannot, and that you cannot afford the bond amount. Some courts will quash a warrant with a motion, but some do require the bond payment. If this court insists on the bond payment, you may be in a position where you have to wait until you have the $1,200.

  6. I have a friend that they arrested over a failure to appear on a civil traffic citation and they are holding him on a $5,000 bond. I read above that they never arrest on a failure to appear on a civil which in turn would make it more questionable about the $5,000 bond when his fine looks like it is only $1741 originally for no registration or mandatory insurance which with the FTA they suspended his license which he went to take care of and they arrested him and are holding him on the $5,000 bond. A bondsman wont touch it without $500 and $2000 collateral because of the FTA. Could you enlighten me?

    1. Post

      Hi Tammy,
      There has to be something else going on besides the civil failure to appear. It sounds like your friend has some sort of criminal FTA in addition to the civil ticket, considering the arrest and the high bond amount. It just isn’t possible that someone would get arrested and held on a $5,000 bond for a civil traffic ticket. I’d start by looking here: https://apps.supremecourt.az.gov/publicaccess/caselookup.aspx and seeing if any other cases pop up.

  7. I have a class G drivers license. My license is currently suspended due to a FTA for a red light violation from a red light camera in 2018. I never received anything in the mail so I did not claim responsibility. Also, a processor did not serve me. When I spoke to someone from the Phoenix municipal court today, she recited an inaccurate address to me. What are my options?

    1. Post

      Hi Taylor,

      Sounds like the court believes you were served, and then when you did not appear, entered a default judgment against you, imposed a fine, and suspended your license. Options at this point are to 1) either pay the fines, take traffic survival school, and pay a reinstatement fee, or 2) you could motion the court to set aside the default because you were not properly served. It is the court’s discretion to set aside the default unfortunately, and if that request is denied, you are back to option 1. If you would like help preparing a motion to set aside the default, or would like to discuss in more detail, give us a ring at 480-626-5415.

  8. I have a AZ Class A license. I just had a FTA on a driving without seatbelt criminal. I don’t know what my next options are. Do I turn myself in and then pay the fees? Call the court first? I don’t want to lose my license if I haven’t already. And if I have how do I get it reinstated?

    1. Post

      Hi Jordan, If you have a FTA for a traffic violation, your license is probably already suspended. My first move would be to call the court and see what they want to take care of the warrant and suspension, and get the case back on track. It may be to make an appearance, it may be to pay a bond, or something else. Once you jump through whatever hoops the court wants you to and the court quashes or recalls the warrant, and lifts the suspension, then you can pay a reinstatement fee to the MVD to get your license reinstated. Then you can deal with the case. If you have more questions, give us a ring. 480-626-5415.

  9. Hi Randolph, The court in Arizona that handled your ticket can provide you with an “abstract”. The abstract is what would be provided to the AZ MVD to clear a suspension or hold, and it sounds like this is what GA wants too. I would have expected the GA hold to have been resolved once you squared away AZ, assuming that was the only issue, but these MVDs can be kind of a mess. Something else you may want to look into – when a license is suspended by a court and then the court lifts the suspension, there is typically a small reinstatement fee due to the AZ MVD to fully clear the suspension. If you did not pay a reinstatement fee, call the AZ MVD (602-255-0072) and see if there is a reinstatement fee due.

  10. I have a GA license, but live in AZ. I failed to pay my civil traffic ticket on time here in AZ and my license was suspended. After finally paying my fine I am cleared through AZ, but have a hold out in GA. I am told to get an FTA Release in order to get the hold off. Any help??

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