One of the most frustrating experiences for some unlucky drivers is finding out that your license has been suspended because of a missed court date – also referred to as an “FTA” suspension. FTA stands for “failure to appear.”
These suspensions are imposed on a daily basis across the country. The purpose behind FTA suspensions has always been to solve the problem of drivers failing to show up to court. Traffic tickets are often overlooked or forgotten by the driver. As a result, traffic court has a surprisingly high number of FTA cases.
When the court has the authority to suspend the license of someone who has missed a court date, it can provide a powerful incentive to return to court and address the underlying ticket or citation that the driver was originally charged with.
The problem with FTA suspensions is that the driver is often unaware that he is driving on a suspended license. If the driver had been aware, it is likely that the ticket would have been dealt with immediately. In other words, it is rarely the case that a driver is purposefully driving on a suspended license from a missed court date.
That is why it is frequently a complete surprise to the driver when he is pulled over during a normal traffic stop and is informed that in addition to the traffic violation, he is being charged with driving on a suspended license – also referred to as “no license.” In many cases the driver is then arrested and his vehicle is impounded.
What to do now?
After being released from jail, the driver should first find out which traffic court sent in the FTA suspension to the Department of Driver Services. The easiest way to do this is to get a copy of your driving record. The FTA suspension should be visible on the driving history and it should identify which court initiated the suspension.
In some courts, resolving the FTA suspension may be as simple as paying the FTA fine. Depending on the court however, the suspension will not be lifted until the underlying citation is resolved. That typically means entering a guilty plea.
This is where things can get tricky. If the underlying citation is a simple, non-reportable traffic offense, then often a guilty plea has few negative consequences – other than an additional fine.
However, in many cases a guilty plea can have far reaching consequences, including a new license suspension. And because the driver missed his initial court date, his opportunity to negotiate a more favorable resolution is limited. The prosecutor is the only one with the authority to reduce the ticket and the prosecutor is not often available to consider such requests at the time the driver is trying to clear up the suspension with the clerk’s office. The clerk’s office is normally open during business hours 5 days a week. The prosecutor is usually only available during court hours which may be as infrequent as twice every month.
This is where a driver can inadvertently make the situation even worse than it already is. Drivers tend to want to reinstate the license as quickly as possible. Acting with haste at this point in the process can lead to devastating consequences, especially if the driver is unaware of the collateral consequences of pleading guilty to the underlying offense.
For instance, if the driver is under 21 years old, it is likely that a guilty plea to two or more offenses, or any single four-point offense will suspend his Georgia driving privileges. Other offenses, such as hit and run or suspended license will suspend the license of any Georgia driver.
If the driver lives out-of-state, clearing up a FTA suspension can be even more difficult. First, the out-of-state driver has to worry about how their home state will react to the Georgia conviction. Second, where the court requires the driver to physically appear in court, an out-of-state resident is at a disadvantage since he will likely want to hire an attorney to appear in his stead as opposed to traveling back to Georgia to handle it himself.
FTA license suspensions can be messy. They often lead to unexpected suspended license charges and they can be time consuming and expensive for drivers. Luckily with some research and a lot of leg work, they can often be cleared up without an attorney.