Failure to Appear (FTA) in Court: Charge and Consequence

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 What Does “ Failure to Appear in Court” Mean?

In certain situations, there may be a requirement that you appear in person at a specific court. Some common examples of when you might have to appear in court include:

  • You receive a traffic ticket and must go to traffic court;
  • You are charged with a crime;
  • You are asked to give testimony as a witness in a court case;
  • Another person sues you in a private lawsuit; or
  • You are asked to serve for jury duty

In most situations when you are required to appear in court, you must appear at a specific scheduled date and time. For example, if the police give you a traffic ticket, it usually has a court date on it. The court date is the day that you must go to court. 

Failure to appear (“FTA”) in court means that you missed your court date. In other words, you did not show up for court when you were supposed to. When this happens, the court will often charge you with Failure to Appear In Court. Many courts use the abbreviation FTA. 

FTA means in court that a criminal charge has been made against you for not showing up. Failure to appear is a crime that can lead to criminal penalties. There are many possible consequences for failure to appear. The consequences will depend on the facts of your specific situation. In some cases, you may be required to just pay a small fine. In other cases, a judge may issue an arrest warrant. 

Where and When Do I Appear in Court?

Generally, making an appearance in court is very simple. All you have to do to “appear in court” is show up in the courtroom on the correct date and at the right time. The place, time and date are all part of your court date. Your court date will be in a legal document. 

The most common legal documents that have a court date and state that you must appear in court include: 

  • Citations;
  • Summons; and
  • Subpoenas

Citations are most often given by police officers when an individual is stopped because they violated traffic law. The citation is often called a traffic ticket. It is given to a person for certain speeding and moving violations. On the citation or traffic ticket, there will be a section that tells you the place, date and time that you must appear in court. In some situations, you can decide to just pay the fine before your court date. If you decide to do this, you might not have to appear in court. It is a good idea to call the traffic court to make sure they received your payment and that you do not need to show up. You can usually find the phone number for the traffic court by searching the internet. The address and/or name of the traffic court can often be found on your traffic ticket. 

There are many reasons why you might want to appear in court when you get a traffic ticket. If you go to court, you can plead guilty to the traffic violation but ask for a smaller fine. You can also try to make a deal where you plead guilty to a less serious traffic charge that has lower penalties. Lastly, you can also decide that you want to plead not guilty and ask for a trail in traffic court. 

A summons is a legal document used in criminal cases and civil lawsuits. Defendants in a criminal case and all parties involved in a lawsuit must get a summons. The summons will include the date, time and place where a court hearing will take place. It is a very important legal document. If you receive a summons, you must respond to it and appear in court on the scheduled date. There can be serious consequences for ignoring a summons. If you do not respond or appear, you could lose your civil lawsuit. If the summons involves a criminal matter, you could face more criminal charges in addition to your original charge.

A summons is also used for jury duty. If you are issued a summons to appear for jury duty, you must go to court at the listed time and date. If you miss jury duty, there may be penalties. You could be required to pay fines. In some cases, you could even receive jail time.

Subpoenas are a type of court order. They usually tell people that they must appear in court for a specific legal proceeding. A subpoena is most often used when a person is needed as a witness in court. It is not typically sent to the actual people involved in the lawsuit. A subpoena to testify, like citations and summons, will tell a witness the location, date and time that they must appear. 

Failure to follow the instructions in the subpoena can result in a variety of consequences. You could be charged with civil or criminal contempt of court. Contempt of court means that you ignored a court’s directions. You could also be responsible for paying fines or face jail time. Even witnesses who did not commit any other crimes and were only called to testify could face these penalties. 

No matter the reason why you are appearing in court, you should follow some basic rules. Appearing in court is an important responsibility. You should act respectfully. Every court may have a different set of specific rules. However, there are certain rules and guidelines that apply to any court.

The following guidelines should be followed whenever you appear in any court: 

  • Where appropriate clothing. You should choose clothing that is clean and neat. You should wear shoes. Don’t worry, the court knows that not everyone has a professional suit or can afford expensive clothing. Just do your best to appear neat. Remember that your appearance may be the court’s first impression of you. You also want to show that you are respectful of the court;
  • Make sure that your cell phone is put away. You should turn off your cell phone or at least put it on silent;
  • Do not eat or drink. The court will often have break times. You can eat or drink during a break;
  • Do not chew gum. It can be distracting, make it hard to understand you and seem disrespectful;
  • Do not bring a camera or take pictures;
  • Do not bring any weapons; and
  • Do not speak in court unless a judge or another court employee asks you to speak. Generally, you should remain silent in court.

A lot of these rules may seem silly or obvious. They still are very important. These rules allow the court to do its job and make sure everything runs smoothly. The courtroom is considered a very special place. You may be surprised at the number of people who do not follow these simple guidelines. Wearing flip-flops and unclean clothing can be seen as a sign of disrespect towards our important justice system. 

What Happens If You Don’t Show Up to Court?

If you do not show up to your court date, the court will charge you with Failure to Appear. Failure to appear is a crime. You will receive a criminal charge. In some states, this is a crime that can be charged as a misdemeanor. In other states, it can be charged as a felony. 

Along with a failure to appear charge, there are other penalties including:

  • A failure to appear warrant for your arrest. The court typically uses a bench warrant which allows the police to arrest you;
  • Time in jail;
  • Payment of fines; and/or
  • Suspending or revoking your driver’s license.

A bench warrant is issued by a judge. It is used when a person fails to appear in court, does not follow court rules, and/or is found in contempt of court. This warrant gives law enforcement permission to arrest you. You will then be brought before the court.

Are there Defenses for Failure to Appear?

There are available defenses for a FTA criminal charge. There will be a hearing for your charge where you will have the opportunity to present any defenses to a judge. The court will listen to any reasons you had for not showing up to court. However, not every reason will be a valid excuse. The most common valid defenses to failure to appear include:

  • You did not have proper notice of your schedule court date;
  • You had a different court appearance that was scheduled before the one you missed; 
  • You were experiencing a serious illness or were in an accident;
  • There was a natural disaster (for example, a tornado, earthquake, flood, etc.); or
  • There was a death in your family.

It is a requirement that you be given legal notice of your court date. Legal notice usually is given by mailing or hand delivering a legal document to you. If you had proper notice and did not appear, you will be charged with failure to appear. However, if you can prove that you did not receive legal notice, it is a defense to the charge of failure to appear. 

If any of the other situations arise, the court may be more understanding of your failure to appear. In some cases, they can decide not to charge you. If this happens, you should make sure that you appear for all of your other court dates, if any. The court will not be forgiving if you continue to not show up. 

What Happens If You Don’t Show Up To Civil Court?

If you fail to appear in a civil court, a judge will likely issue a bench warrant for your arrest. This does not mean that the police will actively try to find you. However, if you are pulled over in a traffic stop and the police sees a bench warrant on your record, they will arrest you. The same thing will happen if you are involved in any other incident where the police are called to the scene. 

If your failure to appear in court involves a private lawsuit, there could be major consequences for your case. A judge has the power to dismiss your case. They can also make an automatic decision in favor of the other party. This means that you will lose your case and most likely will not be able to sue again. 

Failure to appear in civil court can also lead to the other penalties discussed such as: criminal charges, fines, jail time, and suspension of your license. 

If your failure to appear involves a criminal matter, the consequences may be more serious. If you were charged with certain more severe crimes, the police may be sent out to arrest you and bring you to court. 

If you are out on bond following a criminal charge, you could lose any bond money you posted. Failing to appear at a court date is considered a violation of the terms of your bond. When you are arrested again, you will have to post another bond. If this happens, the amount will often be much higher the second time. 

In addition, you will now be facing the charge for the original crime and the additional charge for failure to appear. The additional charge may lead to more serious penalties. 

Do I Need a Lawyer for Failure to Appear in Court Issues

It is highly recommended that you contact a criminal law attorney if you have criminal charges. An experienced attorney can help you respond to legal documents and tell you how to appear for court. In some cases, an attorney can appear for you in court. They can also represent you in court. A skilled attorney will also know any possible defenses if you failed to appear. They can tell you about the possible consequences and give you the best advice on how to move forward.


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