One of the biggest fears our clients have is that they will be arrested when they return to court to clear up an FTA case. This fear is reasonable since it is common for the judge to issue a bench warrant when someone misses traffic court in Georgia.
It is rare, however, for a person to be arrested when she is there to resolve an FTA in traffic court. After all, the whole purpose of issuing a bench warrant on an FTA case is to extend a formal (and exceptionally unpleasant) invitation to return to court and close the case.
In the outlier cases when someone is detained upon returning to court to address an FTA, it is usually because there is a warrant in a different jurisdiction, or related to a separate matter. That being said, it may be wise to speak with a local attorney before taking the leap if you are worried about being arrested.
You can also reach out to someone in the clerk’s office to find out how that particular court handles FTA cases. Some courts have a specific day/time for FTA cases. For instance, some courts handle FTA cases every morning on the 8 AM calendar, but you have to arrive as early as 7 AM on that day in order to get on the docket and you cannot sign up in advance. Other courts handle FTA cases in the afternoons and require that you need to sign up in advance. Other courts will lift the warrant when you go in and sign for a new date. If you want some specific DIY help on how to resolve your FTA may want to consider Legal Coaching.
When you return to court to clear up the FTA, the judge will usually lift the bench warrant without much fanfare. If you had a valid excuse for missing court, such as a medical emergency, make sure you bring the paperwork showing as much with you. Usually, physical printouts are strongly preferred over digital copies (showing them your phone screen).
FTA License Suspension
If more than 30 days have passed since you missed court then you should think about requesting a DDS 912 Form upon closing out your case in order to prevent a suspension of your license.
In addition to the bench warrant, the other unpleasant side effect of missing traffic court is the suspension of your driver’s license. If you are quick to return to court then you may not have to worry about it, but it is better to be safe than sorry. If you think there is a possibility that the court may have sent in the suspension information to either the Georgia Department of Driver Services or your home licensing state (whichever was listed on your original ticket) then you should pick up a certified 912 form from the clerk’s office on your way out of traffic court.
You can always check the status of your license to find out if it is suspended at the DDS website. If you are an out-of-state license holder and you want to find out which Georgia court suspended your license, you can get that information from your home driver’s license agency (DMV).
Bench Warrant Arrest
Sometimes you don’t realize there is a bench warrant out for your arrest until you are advised by a law enforcement officer as she is taking you into custody. Something as mundane as a missed court date for a broken headlight can lead to spending days in custody under the wrong circumstances.
There are two ways to get arrested for a traffic court bench warrant. The first is when you are arrested in the “original jurisdiction.” For example, you missed court at Atlanta Municipal Court and then you are pulled over in Atlanta for a new traffic offense. If you are arrested on the bench warrant (and there are no other holds) then you are probably going to be released quickly and given a new court date for both the old and new tickets.
The second way to be arrested on a traffic court bench warrant is when it happens out of the original jurisdiction. If you are very far away from the original jurisdiction, clients have reported that they are not always arrested on a traffic FTA bench warrant. We have heard a lot of these reports from out-of-state clients. Rather, the out-of-state law enforcement officer simply advises them of the fact that there is a warrant and that they should call a lawyer to clear it up.
On the other hand, if you are stopped in an area nearby the original jurisdiction then you are likely going into custody and it could take longer than you may hope. For example, if you miss a traffic court date in Atlanta and are later stopped in Cobb County, the officer will not return you directly to Atlanta. Rather, she will bring you back to the Cobb County Detention Center where you will have to wait for Atlanta to send a transport vehicle to pick you up. You often cannot bond out and they will not always share the transport schedule. Sometimes the wait is merely a handful of hours, but other times it can be quite a bit more. In that scenario, you can wait it out or talk to an attorney to see if they can help by getting the warrant lifted in the original court.
Very few people intend to miss traffic court, but many do every year. In fact, nearly 40,000 people miss traffic court in the Atlanta Municipal Court per year. More frequently than not, it is the result of a simple oversight. The good news is that it can usually be resolved with a (sometimes quick) court appearance.