So, you got a ticket a few months ago while in California and then forgot about it. Shortly thereafter, you received a “Failure to Appear” notice in the mail and now you are wondering what to do. Here is a brief but thorough guide on how to clear a Failure to Appear (FTA) on a traffic ticket in California. Not dealing with it now could result in serious trouble down the road, so don’t put this off any longer than you already have.
A “Failure to Appear” or VC40508(A) occurs when you do not appear in court for a traffic ticket hearing. 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, when you sign your traffic ticket when you get it, you are making a contract with the State of California, and on the bottom of the contract you have signed, you have agreed to appear in court on a specific date.
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, and clear up your mistake as soon as possible. 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.
Once 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 from the failure to appear (FTA). Typically, the hold will be cleared on your license within 24 to 48 hours of obtaining the abstract. The abstract is processed electronically and submitted directly to the DMV by the court. At this point, you need to remember to appear for your arraignment, because if you miss this date you will have a double FTA on your hands, which is a much larger issue to solve.
After clearing the FTA, the next step is to attend your arraignment and either plead guilty, not guilty or no contest. You will spend the better part of your morning waiting to appear in court. Once the judge takes the bench, he/she will likely ask why you failed to appear on your original court date. There are only a few legal defenses to not appearing, such as incarceration, deportation and hospitalization. With that said, a skilled attorney may be able to help you dismiss the FTA charge altogether. I always advise my clients to try, because the fines and fees for a FTA can be high. At a bare 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. Worst case scenario the officer does appear – if this occurs, it is up to you on how to defend your case, which is why I believe it to be a good use of time and resources to hire an attorney.
First off, on a FTA you will have to go to court on three different occasions, and each trip will likely cost you a half a day or more in court. This means taking three work days off, because courts are only open Monday through Friday from about 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. When you factor in the time and the fact 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 worthwhile to hire an attorney. Additionally, an attorney is skilled in the language and customs of the court, which adds a comfort factor for the client, who is probably not skilled in these matters.
When considering hiring an attorney to help you with your FTA, think about this example: you can read installation instructions on how to install wood floors in your home and likely muddle through it okay, but in the end, a professional will do a much better job – right? Besides, who wants a floor that turns out “pretty good” after spending all of that time and money? Don’t you want to have a beautiful floor you can be proud of that will last a long time? Of course you do!
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. If trucking is your livelihood, you need to protect your driving privilege and keep your costs down as much as possible. That is how you not only survive, but thrive. If you have any questions about a failure to appear or other traffic ticket issues, please contact me at (855) 349-2849 or visit our website at www.fix-tickets.com.
~ Jason Miller graduated from UCLA in 2001, where he did his undergraduate studies, before graduating from Southwestern Law School in 2005 in the top 20% of his class. He passed the California Bar exam in 2006. After that, he began working at a small civil litigation firm where he gained experience in all aspects of litigation including conducting and defending depositions, participating in mediations and settlements, preparing expert witnesses, discovery and more. Based in Los Angeles, California, Jason Miller formed Fix-A-Ticket to help California drivers better understand and defend themselves against traffic infractions. We’d like to welcome Jason to the 10-4 family of contributors!