A failure to appear warrant is an arrest warrant issued when someone does not appear in court and for certain types of probation violations. Also known as an FTA warrant, it is issued at the discretion of a judge. Until the person appears in court, the warrant will not be resolved.
These warrants do not have a statute of limitations. They also can be served outside the area where the warrant was issued. Thanks to the increasing use of electronic data sharing systems by law enforcement, many people with old outstanding warrants find themselves in situations where they are arrested on warrants they may have completely forgotten about.
One of the most common reasons for a judge to issue a failure to appear warrant is when someone does not appear in court on a traffic-related matter. Many courts allow people to make pleas by mail, including guilty pleas, but people who fail to take any kind of mail action on a traffic ticket will be expected in court. If they do not show up, an arrest warrant can be issued. Any other situation in which people have been summoned to court and do not comply with the summons can result in a failure to appear warrant.
Even if people believe that a summons was issued in error or that the charges in a court case are false, they must respond. People who cannot attend court can write the court to explain the situation and explore the possibility of resolution by mail or a change to the court date; a lawyer can assist with this. All others should attend court.
Judges can also issue FTA warrants for people who do not comply with a summons to jury duty. This practice is more common in areas where there are low compliance rates combined with a shortage of jurors. People who receive a jury summons and cannot comply should send back documentation to indicate this. Many summons come with a form on the back that people can fill out to explain why they cannot attend jury duty as requested.
There are cases in which legal summons are issued and people never receive them. For example, a jury duty summons might get sent to an old address after the forwarding order is expired and the new person at that address may fail to return the summons to the post office. Thus, it is sometimes possible to have a failure to appear warrant without being aware of having missed a court appearance. People who are arrested on such warrants should not panic, as the matter can usually be easily resolved.