FAILURE TO APPEAR – TRAFFIC
Mark, an Atlanta resident, finished a week-long vacation along the sandy beaches of Destin, Florida. On the way home, Mark is pulled over in Thomas County, Georgia for speeding 19 miles over the posted speed limit. Much to Mark’s dismay, instead of receiving a citation and finishing his trip home, Mark is hauled off to the county jail. Puzzled and angry, Mark is told that he never paid a seatbelt ticket that he received four years ago. Not paying that seatbelt ticket resulted in the issuance of a bench-warrant for Mark’s arrest. Mark had now been driving on a suspended license for at least two years without knowledge that such a thing had occurred.
The above situation is one that is all too familiar to many residents of Georgia. People simply are not familiar with the consequences of failing to pay a traffic citation on time or at all.
APPEARANCE IN COURT
Every traffic citation issued in the state of Georgia is given a court date and time for which a Defendant can appear to contest the charges. This court date and time is usually located at the bottom of the traffic citation and is followed by the court name, address, and phone number of the court of jurisdiction. Many minor traffic citations can be paid without appearing for court; provided the citation is paid in advance of the scheduled court date. Others may require court appearance—or be to your best advantage to appear anyway. If you are uncertain of whether your traffic citation carries a mandatory court appearance, be sure and visit the court’s website or phone the clerk’s office.
Whenever a Defendant fails to appear for court or pay a payable traffic citation in advance of court, the presiding judge or magistrate has the authority to sign a bench warrant. Once a bench warrant has been signed by a judge, it requires the judge’s signature to be lifted, cancelled, or recalled. When a bench warrant is issued, a Defendant can be arrested and placed into police custody when they are stopped for other traffic infractions or otherwise stopped, questioned, or detained by police. Even if a Defendant is the victim of a crime, a bench warrant might also cause the Defendant to be arrested along with his or hers perpetrator(s).
Perhaps the most common situation that occurs when a Defendant fails to appear for court is that the Defendant suffers a license suspension from the Georgia Department of Driver Services. When a Defendant fails to appear for court, in addition to the issuance of a bench warrant, the court of jurisdiction sends a notice to the Georgia DDS that will result in the suspension of the Defendant’s license unless the Georgia DDS receives a Form 912 within 28 days from the receipt of the notice. The Form 912 is a form that the Defendant can retrieve from the court in which the Defendant failed to appear when the Defendant clears his or her failure to appear with the court. In many cases, the Defendant is not aware that his or her license has been suspended until he or she is subsequently stopped, cited, and jailed for Driving While License Suspended. It is important to act fast to prevent the occurrence of this unfortunate circumstance.
HOW TO CLEAR YOUR FAILURE TO APPEAR
Georgia is a state of over 150 counties and at least 500 municipalities. All of them will have varying processes for clearing a Failure to Appear for traffic citations. Some may be as simple as posting a bond in the original fine amount of the citation plus some contempt fee in order to be given a new court date. If you do not wish to contest the underlying citation, you may also be able to simply pay the original citation in addition to a fee for failing to appear. Others might require your personal appearance or at the minimum the appearance of an attorney on your behalf to lift the bench warrant and release your license and proceed with handling your traffic citation. In all cases, when your license has been suspended or you have received notice from the Georgia DDS that a suspension is scheduled, it is extremely important that you receive a Form 912 from the court of jurisdiction. The Form 912 must be submitted by you to the Georgia DDS in its original form from the court. The Form 912 communicates to Georgia DDS that you have cleared your Failure to Appear concerning that traffic citation. Even when your license is not suspended and you have not received anything from Georgia DDS, phone the clerk to verify whether a notice was sent and if so, proceed with retrieving a Form 912.
If you or your loved one has a Failure to Appear, contact Pak and McRae Law, LLC for a free consultation with one of our expert Traffic and Criminal Defense Attorneys.