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Failure to Appear for Misdemeanors in Florida

If you failed to appear in court after receiving a notice to appear, posting bail through a bail bondsman, posting a cash bond, or being released on a signature bond (ROR), contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss the best ways to resolve the warrant for your arrest.

If you missed a court date, then the court can issue a warrant or capias for your arrest. In some cases, after you retain an attorney, the attorney can file a motion for the judge to withdraw that failure to appear warrant (often called the "FTA"). A recent study found that 1 out of 5 misdemeanor traffic cases in Hillsborough County resulted in a judge issuing a capias for a failure to appear in court.

The attorneys at the Sammis Law Firm represent men and women throughout the greater Tampa Bay area on failure to appear warrants and the underlying felony or misdemeanor charges in Tampa or Plant City for Hillsborough County, Brooksville in Hernando County, New Port Richey or Dade City in Pasco County, Clearwater or St. Petersburg in Pinellas County, Bradenton in Manatee County, and Bartow or Lakeland in Polk County, FL.

Call 813-250-0500 today to discuss your case.

Florida Statute 843.15 - Failure to Appear

Many people are surprised to learn that if they fail to appear in court after posting bond on any misdemeanor charge that the prosecutor can also bring another separate criminal charge for the failure to appear. The prosecutor is especially likely to file an additional charge for failure to appear (sometimes called "jumping bail" or "bail jumping") when the person fails to surrender on the outstanding warrant or capias within a reasonable period of time after the original failure to appear.

Florida Statute 843.15(1)(b) makes it a separate first-degree misdemeanor to fail to appear in court after posting bail in any misdemeanor case. If the person fails to appear for any felony charge, then the offense can be charged as a third-degree felony under Florida Statute 843.15(1)(a). In other words, the failure to appear may constitute a crime in and of itself.

Florida Statute § 843.15 provides for a separate crime when the Defendant fails to appear while on pre-trial release on bail. The statute provides that "whoever, having been released pursuant to chapter 903, willfully fails to appear before any court or judicial officer as required shall incur a forfeiture of any security which was given or pledged for her or his release and, in addition, shall:

(a) If she or he was released in connection with a charge of felony or while awaiting sentence or pending review by certiorari after conviction of any offense, be guilty of a felony of the third degree…: or

(b) If she or he was released in connection with a charge of misdemeanor, be guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree."

The Florida statute for the "Failure of Defendant on Bail to Appear" also provides in section 2 that nothing in the statute Section 843.15 shall interfere with or prevent the exercise by any court of its power to punish for contempt. A person cannot be prosecuted for forfeiting bail bond posted to secure his appearance in municipal court to answer a charge of violating a municipal ordinance. See Florida Op.Atty.Gen., 1946, p. 728.

When is the Failure to Appear Willful?

The failure to abide by a court order to appear in court on a specified date for felony or misdemeanor charges may subject the defendant to additional charges, or to a citation for contempt. Until the court determines guilt utilizing procedures which provide due process, however, it may not impose additional punishment. Due process requires a determination in either a contempt proceeding or in a new case for failure to appear that the failure was "willful."

For instance, in Corrales v. State, 84.3d 406 (2012) the evidence was insufficient to show willfulness. A showing of willfulness was required for the defendant's conviction for failure to appear before the court. In that case, the defendant's attorney had been notified that the case was to be continued until a certain date in the future.

The prosecutor with the State Attorney's Office presented no testimony or other evidence that the defendant's attorney, or anyone else, relayed-or sought to relay-the new hearing date to the defendant. The prosecutor for the State Attorney's Office also did not present any evidence, aside from notice to counsel, that suggested any intention on defendant's part to fail to appear for the hearing. The appellate court found that without more, proof of notice to defendant's attorney of a court proceeding was insufficient to make the defendant criminally liable for failing to attend.

In many cases, the person accused is able to show that the failure to appear was not willful because "uncontrollable circumstances" prevented the person from appearing or surrendering. Ideally, the person accused would show that he or she did not contribute to the creation of the uncontrollable circumstances in reckless disregard of the requirement to appear in court, and that the person appeared or surrendered as soon as such circumstances ceased to exist.

Examples of "uncontrollable circumstances" might include:

  • a vehicle that breaks down while the person is on the way to the courthouse; or
  • a medical condition or sickness that required the defendant to miss court.

What are the Consequences of a Failure to Appear on a Misdemeanor in Florida?

After a failure to appear in court the judge will typically issue a no bond warrant for your arrest or capias. In some cases, the court may allow for a bond on the failure to appear warrant. The person who missed court may have several options including:

  • immediately reporting to the jail to surrender on the failure to appear warrant or capias;
  • hiring an attorney to file a motion to withdraw the failure to appear warrant or capias and set a court date;
  • hiring an attorney to file a "motion to surrender" in the courtroom (instead of the jail) on the failure to appear capias or warrant in order to attempt to avoid another set of arrest records, mugshots, and finger prints.

The worst thing the person can do is continue to remain in failure to appear status. The consequences of having the outstanding warrant may include:

  • being ineligible to collect certain government, state or local benefits such as social security income, unemployment compensation, or financial aid;
  • having your driver's license suspended indefinitely until you surrender or set a court date and obtain a D-6 clearance;
  • having trouble finding a job because the outstanding warrant will show up in even the most basic background check; and
  • having trouble renting a house or apartment because of the outstanding warrant.
  • incurring a forfeiture of any security which was pledged or given for the release;
  • an additional criminal charge for failure to appear (FTA) as discussed above; and
  • a finding of contempt if that option is exercised by the court.

The elements of the offense are generally provided by the standard jury instructions for the failure of the defendant to appear in court while out of custody on a secured bond.

Chapter 903 - Bail and Bond Provisions under Florida Law

After an arrest for any misdemeanor charge, a person may be released from custody pursuant to Florida Statute, Title XLVII for criminal procedure and corrections under Chapter 903 which is related to certain bail provisions including:

  • Under Florida Statute 903.011, the term bail or bond is defined as any form of pretrial release including any cash component or monetary component of any form of pretrial release met by a surety bond. The definition of bail or bond under Florida law also provides that differing monetary amounts may not be set for surety, cash or other forms of pretrial release.
  • Appearance bond as provided by Florida Statute Section 903.105.
  • Bail on appeal following a plea that reserves the right to appear an adverse dispositive ruling on a pre-trial motion or upon a finding of guilt after a bench or jury trial.
  • Cash or property bail.

Related topics: Florida Statutes 843.1.b or 843.15 1 b

What happens if I fail to appear for my court date?

The website for the clerk's office in Hillsborough County has a "frequently asked questions" (FAQ) section features this question: 

What happens if I fail to appear for my court date?

Failure to appear may result in serious consequences. A felony judge may issue a warrant for your arrest. You may forfeit any bond that you have posted, thus losing money or collateral. If you are arrested for failure to appear you may be held in the Hillsborough County Jail without bond.

Read more about the failure to appear in court after being issued a notice to appear in a misdemeanor case.

Is My Signed Waiver of Appearance Filed in the Criminal Case Sufficient?

In many felony and misdemeanor cases, the criminal defense attorney will ask the client to sign a waiver of appearance that is filed with the court. The attorney will then tell the client that he or she is not required to appear at the next court date. Some courts in Florida have a blanket policy that requires the defendant's presence even when a written waiver has been filed. Most attorneys are aware of these policies that vary from courtroom to courtroom and know the best ways to work around them.

Nevertheless, a blanket policy is probably illegal under Florida law. If a person is taken into custody for failing to appear after being released by their attorney pursuant to a properly filed waiver of appearance, then the attorney can file a petition for a writ of habeas to address the issue with a higher court.

As explained in Walters v. State, 905 So.2d 974, 977 (Fla. 1st DCA 2005), a court may require the attendance of a defendant if there is good reason to do so. See also Cruz v. State, 822 So.2d 595, 596 (Fla. 3d DCA 2002). In order to exercise this discretion, however, there must be good cause and "defense counsel and the defendant must be clearly advised that the defendant's personal presence is required, notwithstanding the waiver of presence." Cruz, 822 So.2d at 596. By instituting a policy that effectively eliminates the ability to waive appearance, the trial court is refusing to exercise the individualized discretion required by the rules. Jimenez v. State, 201 So.3d 214, 217 (Fla. 2d DCA 2016).

Finding a Tampa Attorney for a Failure to Appear Warrant or Capias

If you would like to speak directly with an attorney about your failure to appear on an arrest warrant or capias on any felony or misdemeanor charge in Florida then contact a criminal defense attorney at the Sammis Law Firm in Tampa, Hillsborough County, FL.

We also represent clients on arrest warrants in Pinellas County or arrest warrants in Hernando County, Florida. Call 813-250-0500 today to discuss your case. Let us put our experience to work for you today.

This article was last updated on Monday, July 25, 2017.