If you miss a court date in Florida, it is very likely there may be a warrant out for your arrest. Once the warrant hits the system, law enforcement agencies are notified and are probably looking to arrest you. Now is not the time to run or hide. You need to contact an attorney who is familiar with the system, so the warrant can be lifted, and your absence can be explained.
What happens if I miss a court date for a misdemeanor in Florida?
If you are facing a misdemeanor charge in the state of Florida, you will be given court dates to appear before a county court judge. The first court hearing is called an arraignment. An arraignment is the hearing where the accused is advised by a judge what he or she has been charged with. The purpose of this hearing is to enter an initial pleading, usually a not guilty plea. You are required to appear for an arraignment hearing unless you have an attorney who has entered a not guilty plea on your behalf. Even under some limited circumstances, you may still be required to appear for this type of hearing so always check with an experienced criminal defense attorney in your area. When in doubt, always appear in court.
Following the arraignment, pre-trials or disposition court dates are scheduled by the county court judge. You are required to appear for these hearings unless the judge or your attorney tells you otherwise. In some cases, attorneys will file a waiver of your appearance and appear on your behalf. Some judges are not fond of this practice so always be familiar with your judge or hire an attorney who knows your judge’s preferences.
If you fail to appear for any scheduled court hearing on a misdemeanor case in Florida, a warrant will likely be issued for your arrest. Not only will you be arrested, but you could be charged with a new and separate offense of misdemeanor failure to appear under Florida Statute 843.15 (b). This offense is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable of up to one year in jail.
What happens if I miss a felony court date in Florida?
The court procedure for a felony is much like that described above for a misdemeanor. The difference is that hearings are before a circuit court judge and the penalties are greater. If you miss a felony court hearing, you may be charged with the separate crime of felony Failure to Appear. A felony Failure to Appear is a third-degree felony punishable of up to five years in prison. It is important to note that you may be charged with a felony failure to appear if you have already pled to a felony charge and are awaiting a sentence or awaiting certiorari review.
Can I go to jail for missing court in Florida?
Yes, you can go to jail if you miss court. However, as explained below, an experienced criminal defense attorney can assist. Your presence to remove a bench warrant may be required depending on the type of case you have failed to appear for. If a valid reason for missing court is properly presented to the judge who issued the warrant, you may be able to avoid going to jail. However, we highly recommend that you do not try to present this to the presiding judge without the assistance of an experienced criminal attorney.
Will I be able to bond out if I am arrested for Failure to Appear (FTA)?
If you are arrested before you are able to see the judge regarding your warrant, you may or may not be able to immediately bond out. Several possibilities are likely.
- You are arrested with a bond amount that allows you to immediately bond out of jail.
- You are arrested with no bond.
- You are arrested with a high bond or no bond that is adjusted at your first appearance within 24 hours of your arrest.
Factors that determine whether you are eligible for a bond are:
- Ties to the community
- Likelihood to appear in court for future court hearings
- Whether or not you have a job
- Type of crime you were originally arrested for
- Criminal record
- Record of failing to appear in your past
- Are you a danger to the community?
Reasons for missing a court date and potential defenses.
Did you forget you had court? Did you recently move? Were you mistaken about the time and arrived late? Did you get a formal notice in the mail? Were you in jail in another county? Was there some miscommunication between you and your attorney that was not communicated to the court? Were you in the hospital?
There are many reasons why people miss court. Some are easily resolved, and some require additional information and/ or documentation. One thing is for sure, the problem will not go away on its own. If a formal FTA is filed, you will be forced to defend the criminal charge. There are defenses such as:
- Lack of Notice
- Incorrect or insufficient notice
- Emergency – these are more fact-specific
- Attorney told you that you did not have to appear – although this is rare, we have seen this happen. If you receive any communication from your attorney advising that you do not have to appear in court, make sure to save it for your records. Additionally, if your attorney tells you that you do not have to appear in court, ask that he or she provide that statement to you in writing. Text and email are sufficient as long as you can prove the source of the text, the date, the time and the specific court date your attorney advised that you need not appear for.
Can an attorney help me get the warrant withdrawn?
Although an attorney may not guarantee you that he or she can get your warrant withdrawn, an attorney who is familiar with the practices and procedures in the county your warrant was issued can assist with presenting you with options to resolve the issue.
Under some circumstances, an attorney may be able to resolve the issue without you ever having to go to court, such as a failure to appear for a traffic violation hearing, also known as an FTA. Minor offenses such as non-violent misdemeanors may be handled the same way depending on the judge and the county.
In most cases, if the charge is a felony, you will likely have to present to the court or turn yourself in. Our law office regularly schedules motion hearings before the warrant-issuing judge to request the court to withdraw the warrant.
What if I do not live in Florida but I have an active warrant for my arrest for Failure to Appear?
If you do not live in the state of Florida and you have a warrant for a Failure to Appear or any other criminal charge in the state of Florida, you are subject to arrest in your home state. It is extremely important to contact a Florida Criminal Defense attorney immediately. Although your physical appearance may be required to resolve the outstanding warrant, there are also circumstances where we are able to resolve warrants without you having to travel to Florida. Every case is different. Our attorneys can quickly assess your case to determine if we can move to withdraw your warrant without you having to be present in court.
Am I going to be formally charged with Failure to Appear?
Whether you are formally charged with a misdemeanor or a felony Failure to Appear depends on the facts and circumstances of your case. Often times, these situations can be cleared with a reasonable explanation prior to the formal charge being filed. However, it is very important to hire an attorney who is familiar with the policies and procedures in your jurisdiction. Our attorneys serve clients throughout the state of Florida.
How does a Failure to Appear (FTA) charge affect my criminal score sheet?
A Failure to Appear comes with serious consequences to the criminal score sheet. If you are arrested and charged with a felony Failure to Appear, the state may use this charge as the primary offense and it would carry 22 points as a level 4 offense. A misdemeanor Failure to Appear only carries .2 points. In fact, all misdemeanors carry .2 points in the state of Florida. Although this seems minor, points can add up and a careful analysis of your criminal score sheet should be made any time you are close to scoring mandatory prison.
The sooner the better!
If you or a family member has found out that a warrant has been issued, contact us sooner rather than later. Courts are more likely to favor the defendant who is proactive in clearing up the warrant. Speedy response to a warrant issue can be the difference between you going to jail or remaining out of custody on bond or release on recognizance (ROR).