By Erin Gerstenzang
642One of the most frustrating experiences for some unlucky drivers is when you find out that the state suspended your license due to a missed court date. The law refers to this offense as a “failure to appear,” or an “FTA” suspension.

These suspensions are imposed daily across the country. The purpose is to solve the problem of drivers failing to show up to court, as it is common for drivers to forget or overlook traffic tickets. As a result, there are a surprisingly high number of FTA cases in traffic court. And when the court has the authority to suspend your license for missing a court date, it provides a powerful incentive to the driver to return and address the citation.

However, the problem with FTA suspensions is that you are often unaware that you are driving on a suspended license. If you were aware, you would likely have dealt with the ticket immediately.

For this reason, if you are pulled over for a normal traffic stop, it is usually a surprise to learn that, in addition to the new traffic violation, you are charged with driving on a suspended license, also referred to as “no license.” In many cases, the officer will arrest you and impound your vehicle.

What to do now?

Second DUI.003After you are released from jail, you should first find out which traffic court sent in the FTA suspension to the Department of Driver Services (DDS). The easiest way to do this is to get a copy of your driving record. The FTA suspension should be visible on your driving history, and it should identify which court initiated it.

In some courts, resolving the FTA suspension may be as simple as paying a fine. Depending on the court, however, the suspension will not be lifted until you deal with the underlying citation. That typically means entering a guilty plea.

This part of the process is where things can get tricky. If the underlying citation is a simple, non-reportable traffic offense, then often a guilty plea may have 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 you missed your initial court date, your opportunity to negotiate a more favorable resolution is limited. This is because the prosecutor is the only one with the authority to reduce the ticket. And they are often unavailable to consider such requests when you are trying to clear up the suspension with the clerk’s office. Normally, the clerk’s office is open during business hours, five days a week. However, the prosecutor is usually only available during court hours, which may be as infrequent as twice per month.

This is where you can inadvertently make the situation worse. Drivers tend to want to reinstate their license as quickly as possible. But acting with haste at this point in the process can lead to devastating consequences, especially if you are unaware of the collateral repercussions of pleading guilty to the underlying offense.

For instance, if you are under 21 years old, it is likely that a guilty plea to two or more offenses or any single four-point offense will suspend your Georgia driving privileges. Other charges, such as a hit-and-run, will get your license suspended no matter your age or number of points.

Additionally, if you live out-of-state, clearing up a failure to appear suspension can be even more difficult. First, you have to worry about how your home state will react to the Georgia conviction. Second, you have to worry about being at a disadvantage if the court requires you to appear before the judge. Rather than hiring an attorney to appear in your stead, now you have to travel back to Georgia and handle the situation yourself.

FTA license suspensions can be messy. They often lead to unexpected suspended license charges, and they can be time-consuming and expensive to resolve. Luckily, with some research and a lot of leg work, you can often clear them up without an attorney.

However, if you would like help navigating and simplifying the process, reach out to one of our attorneys today.


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.
picjumbo.com_IMG_5992However, 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.
10.2015 Web Images Updates.001This 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.