How does the San Bernardino County court system handle a failure to appear (“FTAs”) on traffic infractions involving violations, such as, speeding, littering, log book violations, out of designated lane, hazardous materials, exceeding 100 mph, etc?by Attorney Felicia Woods-Yates on 04/26/15
How does the San Bernardino County court system handle a failure to appear (“FTAs”) on traffic infractions involving violations, such as, speeding, littering, log book violations, out of designated lane, hazardous materials, exceeding 100 mph, etc?
Our office has been representing commercial drivers (CDL holders) for over ten (10) years in the San Bernardino County Superior courts. In the not too distant past, the court system here in the County used to give traffic defendants “another bite at the apple”, whenever they failed to appear (physically show up or post the bail amount due) in a timely manner at the respective court locations such a Barstow, Fontana, Joshua Tree, Rancho Cucamonga, San Bernardino or Victorville, wherever their case happened to be assigned. They would be allowed to “appear” (by themselves or through an attorney), for example, as much as six months, nine months, or even a year after their assigned court date had past, and still be allowed to either post the bail monies owed (thereby entering a Guilty plea), or enter a plea of Not Guilty, and request that a Court Trial be set for their matter. Well…those days are officially over!
Now, whenever a traffic matter is classified by the Court as an FTA status, California Vehicle Code (CVC) section 40903(a) allows the court to proceed under what is known as a Trial In Absentia – essentially, the Court will conduct a Trial in your absence. CVC 40903(a) generally indicates that anyone who is considered an FTA, is thereby deemed to have elected or consented to a Trial by Written Declaration (In Absentia) upon any alleged infraction, as charged by the arresting or citing officer.
Once an FTA charge (allowed under CVC section 40508(a)) has been added to a case by the court clerk’s office, unlike the old days, neither you nor an attorney can stop or suspend the process. Once the judge has rendered a decision (which is generally always to find the individual Guilty), a person will have twenty (20) calendar days from the date the clerk’s office puts on the Certificate of Mailing (which is included with the Notice of Decision they will send a person) to request a Trial De Novo (New Trial) pursuant to CVC section 40902. The request for a New Trial should be received by the clerk’s office no later than the 20th day after the date on the Certificate of Mailing. In addition, the Court will now mandate that the person post the full bail amount originally owed, along with the $300.00 civil penalty assessment for failing to appear (which is allowed under California Penal Code section 1214.1), at the same time the person is requesting a New Trial. So, for example, if your original bail amount owed was $285.00 (for Speeding in a Commercial Vehicle), then the Court would require that you post or pay ahead of time a total of $585.00, before the Court will even consider your request for a New Trial. This of course, would be in addition to any attorney’s fees you may have should you decide to be represented in the matter. If the above bail + penalty monies is posted, and your request for a New Trial is received in a timely manner, the Court will generally always Grant your request.
I have not yet mentioned the fact that the Court will also report your FTA to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The DMV may then take their own independent action, separate from the Court, and seek to withhold, suspend, or revoke your driver’s license. Of course, once you have been found Guilty under a Trial In Absentia , unless you post the bail/penalty monies and seek a New Trial, your conviction will also be reported to the DMV. The moral of this blog posting is that whenever feasible, it is always better to either appear in person, post the bail amount owed (not recommended for commercial drivers or anyone concerned about negligent operator points, insurance increases, etc.), or hire an attorney to intervene, prior to your assigned court date.
Since everyone's traffic incident is unique to that individual and the specific circumstances, you should consult with a competent defense attorney to determine your best course of action. Felicia Yates has been practicing law for over 30 years in California and can be reached at (760) 326-5297, and found at Law Offices of Felicia Yates & Associates.