Did you wake up in the middle of the night and realize that you missed court? Did you write the wrong date down for court and get a warrant for your arrest? If so, you are not alone. Missing court dates is the most common reason in Pinellas County for people being arrested or having a warrant for their arrest.
The vast majority of all failures to appear in court (FTAs) are from people with little to no prior criminal history. Most of the warrants are from misdemeanor cases in traffic court that were set on the bottom of a traffic ticket or citation. Lack of familiarity with the court process often contributes to the confusion over missing the court date. The bad news is that if you were picked up on the warrant for failure to appear, you may have had to spend an unnecessary night in the Pinellas County jail, pay money for a cash bond or to a bail bondsman, and now have a mugshot on the internet. The good news is that a criminal defense attorney who specializes in Pinellas County cases can normally avoid any more repercussions. Additionally, if you hire a lawyer quickly enough, it is possible to withdraw the warrant, avoid the arrest, and simply get a new court date. But, you must move quickly because warrants are not something to take lightly and can only be withdrawn by the judge who issued it.
What Is a Failure to Appear in Pinellas County?
All failures to appear arise from missing court and are controlled by Florida Statute 843.15. Under this statute, whoever willfully fails to appear before any court or judicial officer shall forfeit any security pledged for release and may be subject to contempt. While the use of contempt is extremely rare, if you have missed court, you will forfeit your bond or have a bond assessed in connection with the warrant. For example, if your felony bond was $2,000 and you missed court, the judge will likely revoke your bond, issue a warrant and set your new bond at $5,013. If you missed court for any type of misdemeanor, whether it was for some type of traffic violation or not, the judge will issue a warrant for your arrest and set the bond at $513 or perhaps $1,013. You can always tell that the bond was for a failure to appear if it ends in 13. That is a way to signal to all those involved the type of bond and that the person is a potential flight risk. The most concerning aspect about Florida Statute 843.15 is that it permits additional criminal charges to be assessed if you wilfully miss court. If you miss your court date on a felony charge, the Office of the State Attorney can charge you with a third-degree felony called Failure to Appear. This additional felony charge is punishable by up to 5 years in prison. While you are unlikely to get an additional 5 years of prison for missing court, expect the prosecutor to use this new charge against you as leverage to force you into a plea deal that is harsher than what you may like. Likewise, if you miss court on a misdemeanor charge, you can be prosecuted for a 1st-degree misdemeanor, also called Failure to Appear. The prosecutors at the Office of the State Attorney will also try to leverage their case against you with this new charge. Obviously, the best way to avoid all of this risk is to make your court date, but mistakes are a reality of the court system.
I Was Arrested on a Warrant for Missing Court, Now What Do I Do?
If you have bonded out, it is important to get ahead of the situation. Over the years, I have seen many people bond out, sit back and wait for their case to proceed without checking to see if the State is in the process of filing a new criminal charge for Failure to Appear. In every case, your criminal defense lawyer needs to be proactive. If my client had any legitimate reason for missing court, as a matter of course, I always send a letter to the State describing why the absence was not willful. If you and your lawyer sit back and do nothing, the State has no idea why you missed court and will likely issue the new charge. Unfortunately, many defendants never have a clue that their lawyer could have prevented this situation from occurring.
If you have been arrested and have not bonded out because the new bond amount was too high, or you can’t find a bondsman that will take the bond, only a criminal defense lawyer can rectify the situation. In this situation, you will need to have a lawyer file a motion to reinstate the original bond. If it is possible, you will need to bring to court a letter from your bail bondsman that they will agree to go back on the bond. If you don’t want to sit in the Pinellas County jail until your case is over, you will need legal help.
I Found out That I Have a Warrant for Missing Court, but Have Not Been Arrested, What Do I Do?
Unfortunately, most people find out from the police that they missed court and by then it is too late. If you come in contact with a police officer and you have a warrant, you cannot talk your way out of it, they are required to arrest you and take you to the Pinellas County Jail. But, if you are fortunate enough to realize your mistake in time, my advice is to get a lawyer who specializes in Pinellas County cases immediately. If the missed appearance was for a misdemeanor, I can usually file a motion to withdraw the capias or warrant and reset a new court date. I can usually do this in a single day. If the missed court date was for a felony, getting the capias or warrant withdrawn requires a court date, but I can usually get that set within a couple of days. In either situation, always get a lawyer as soon as possible to advise you on the best plan of attack.
Contact a Pinellas County Criminal Defense Attorney
My office is in St. Petersburg and I specialize in cases in Pinellas County, Florida. I have found that specializing in one county allows me to get to know the prosecutors and judges better than if I spread out my practice among multiple jurisdictions. For over 20 years, I have represented people who have missed court dates and are looking for answers. If you or a loved one has missed court in Pinellas County and are seeking an experienced and reputable criminal defense attorney, please contact me for a consultation immediately. Unlike almost any type of case, time is of the essence with failures to appear.