Did you miss court many months or years ago and now have straightened out your life? Were you in a bad place when you picked up the charges and now want to clean up an old warrant for your arrest? If so, you are not alone. There are thousands of people like you who have old warrants hanging over their heads from charges in Pinellas County, Florida. Most people have bad memories from their case at the Pinellas County Justice Center on 49th St. But, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. If you are reading this article, you have already taken the first step.
I have been helping people fix warrants for missing court in Pinellas County for over 20 years. It can take some work, costs some money to pay old fines, and requires proof that you are clean, sober and crime free. But, if you are serious about fixing the old warrant, I have had great results in doing so. This article is dedicated to setting forth a road map to help people fix warrants and help them get their full rights back.
Scenario 1: I Missed Court for a Misdemeanor and Now Have a Warrant:
In this circumstance, I will file a motion with the court to withdraw the warrant. If the missed court date was recent, I outline the reasons. Usually, my clients simply forget about court, don’t get the notice in the mail, or perhaps were experiencing some medical condition that disrupted their life. If I have a doctor’s note or hospital discharge records, that is usually enough.
If the warrant was from an old case that is years or even decades old, there usually is no actual defense for failing to appear for that long. You usually are going to have to explain that you made a mistake and now want to do the right thing. But, because everyone in the criminal justice system wants these old cases to be resolved and taken off the books, they give a lot of leniency. In this circumstance, I normally will work out a deal with the prosecutor at the Office of the State Attorney or the court in advance of filing the motion to withdraw the warrant. At the same time, I have my clients either appear in person to resolve the charge, or if they live out of the area, I will use a plea in absentia (PIA). A PIA is a document outlining all of the rights that you give up, a description of the plea, a fingerprint card, and a certified check that is used to pay off any fines/court costs that are imposed as a result of the plea. If the deal is worked out in advance, the process becomes quite simple and there is rarely a problem.
Scenario 2: I Violated My Misdemeanor Probation and Now Have a Warrant:
This situation is also quite common. A lot of clients contact me after they had given up on probation and failed to appear. Often when someone is unable to complete misdemeanor probation, they had bigger problems to deal with at the time and always meant to come back and clean up the mess. Months or years went by and maybe the warrant prevented them from getting a driver’s license. Maybe the warrant prevented them from renewing their driver’s license. Some moved out of the state and started new lives. Many did not want to go the rest of their lives knowing that they had an outstanding warrant and could never visit Florida again without risking getting arrested.
Misdemeanor probation used to be handled by the Salvation Army until a few years ago. Now, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office runs the program. Fortunately, in all VOP cases, the record of the basis for the VOP and the history of the case are all filed with the Pinellas County Clerk of Court.
In these situations, I pull the VOP report and review what conditions are left to be completed. If the client can get the conditions done, then I will contact the judge and the prosecutor and work out a deal. Once the deal is in place, I will prepare a PIA (as mentioned above, a PIA is a plea in absentia meaning it is a form that I submit to the court). In almost all of my cases where my clients have completed all of the conditions of their probation and admit to violating probation, the judge will agree to withdraw the warrant and simply impose a $115 VOP fine. That’s it. Most clients do not even need to come back to Florida to resolve the case-everything can be done through the mail. If someone is motivated to resolve a VOP warrant, all it takes is some effort to complete the conditions and to contact a lawyer to put it all together.
Scenario 3: I Have a Felony Warrant for Missing Court or a Vop:
Resolving a felony warrant for missing court is much more difficult if long periods of time has passed. That does not mean that it can’t be done, however. Failing to appear in court is controlled by Florida Statute § 843.15. This statute provides for a new crime of failure to appear (FTA) if you are found to have wilfully not appeared for court. If the underlying charge is a felony, the FTA charge is a third degree felony. If the missed court date was for a misdemeanor, the FTA charge is a 1st degree misdemeanor. It is standard practice for the Office of the State Attorney in Pinellas County to file felony FTA charges, but it is rare that they will do this in misdemeanor cases.
For felony warrants, the bad news is that you will normally have to turn yourself in to the Pinellas County Jail. If you failed to appear on a VOP warrant, the chances that you will have to turn yourself in, go up. But, there are some options. If the charge is a lower level felony, it is possible to work out a deal with the prosecutor to amend it to a misdemeanor and then resolve the case without having to go to court. For example, you live out of state and have an old drug charge. You have gone to rehab or counseling and are now clean and sober. In these cases, I have been able to show the prosecutor that my client has changed and been able to get the case reduced to a misdemeanor possession of paraphernalia. I then draft a PIA, have it signed by the client and submitted to the court. The warrant gets withdrawn and the client must pay the fine and court costs. This is an ideal resolution of an outstanding warrant but it does take a lot of work and to be presented properly by the lawyer. The best part about this situation is that the client never has to come back to Pinellas County.
Another technique that I use to resolve old felony warrants is to try to work out a plea deal in advance of my client’s surrender on the warrant. Often, if I am able to get the judge or the prosecutor to agree in advance, I can arrange a surrender in court on the warrant, have the client plead to the charge in the courtroom, and the case is over on the spot. That means that the warrant gets withdrawn and the client does not need to go to jail to clear the warrant.
What Steps Should I Take to Fix the Warrant?
In every situation, it is a good idea to show that you are taking the right steps to fix the problem. If you have straightened out your life, gotten married and have had children, those factors may mitigate the penalties. If you are clean and sober, take voluntary drug screens to prove it. If you have been to counseling, provide proof of it. AA or NA meetings are voluntary and free. All you have to do is document when and where you went on a form and have it initiated by the person who ran the meeting. Finally, anything else that you can provide your lawyer to show how you have changed is helpful. If you have worked for a long time, a letter of recommendation from your employer would be helpful. If you go to church, get a letter from your pastor, priest, or minister. If you have volunteered as a youth coach or at a charity, then try to get proof. Basically, the more you can do to show why you deserve leniency, the better your chances at leniency.
How Much Does It Cost to Hire a Lawyer to Fix the Warrant?
It is tough to estimate the attorney’s fee to handle a felony warrant or a felony VOP warrant. Felony cases are more risky and more complicated. Therefore, the fee to fix a felony warrant is determined on a case by case basis.
To fix a misdemeanor warrant for missing court on an old charge or to fix an old misdemeanor VOP, the fee for a good criminal defense lawyer is $2,500 or less. The fee is due in full in advance. I do not accept payment plans on old cases for obvious reasons.
Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney in Pinellas County, Florida
Even though you may have made a mistake, there is hope. Warrants for missing court can be resolved regardless of how old they are. The goal in every case is to avoid having to come back to Pinellas County and avoid any jail. Normally, with those goals in mind, I am successful. If I don’t think I can accomplish your goals, I will be straight-forward from the start and let you make the decision about whether you want to proceed without owing me any money. I can usually tell within a few minutes of an interview whether a strategy to resolve an old warrant will work.
If you have a warrant for your arrest from missing court in Pinellas County, I would be happy to try and help. I have helped countless people over my career resolve warrants. My consultations are free of charge, so please call or email me for a free case review.