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Penal Code 853.7 PC | Violating a Written Promise to Appear

Penal Code 853.7 PC | Violating a Written Promise to Appear

Getting arrested can be a scary, overwhelming experience. The police put you in handcuffs, take your fingerprints, and lock you in a cell. After what feels like forever, they let you out and hand you a piece of paper – a written promise to appear. This promise sets a date for you to come back to court and face the charges against you. Seems simple enough, right? Just show up on your court date. Well, many people panic or forget and end up missing their court date altogether. Now your failure to appear lands you in even more trouble. This article will break down California Penal Code 853.7 PC and the consequences for violating a written promise to appear.

What is a Written Promise to Appear?

Let’s start with the basics. A written promise to appear – sometimes called a “notice to appear” or “citation” – is a document that police give you after an arrest. It has important information like:

  • Your name and address
  • The charges against you
  • Instructions to appear in court on a specific date & time
  • Amount of bail (money you pay as a guarantee to return to court)

By signing this promise to appear, you agree to come back to court on the date listed to face the criminal charges. If you fail to appear, you violate the agreement and commit a new crime under California Penal Code 853.7 PC.

Elements of Violating a Written Promise to Appear

To be convicted under Penal Code 853.7 PC, the prosecutor must prove the following elements:

  1. You were arrested and released on a written promise to appear, OR released on bail;
  2. You willfully failed to appear within 30 days of your scheduled court date; AND
  3. The court clerk has mailed notice to your last known address telling you to appear.

Let’s break these down…

You Were Released on a Written Promise to Appear or Bail

First, police must have actually released you from custody. This means handing you a notice to appear or allowing you to post bail. Bail is money or property you give the court as collateral to let you out of jail until your court date.

You Willfully Failed to Appear Within 30 Days

Next, you must have intentionally missed your scheduled court date. Accidentally forgetting doesn’t count. The prosecutor has to show you willfully failed to appear in court within 30 days of your assigned date.

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Let’s say the police arrested you for shoplifting on March 1 and gave you a notice to appear in court on March 15. If you don’t show up to your March 15 court date, you’ve willfully failed to appear within 30 days. But if you appear on March 20 instead, you should be fine because it’s still within 30 days of March 15.

The Court Clerk Mailed Notice to Your Last Known Address

Finally, the court clerk must have mailed you a notice saying you missed your court date and need to appear immediately. This gives you a chance to fix the situation before getting charged with violating a written promise to appear.

The clerk will mail the notice to your last known address, according to the police report from your arrest. Make sure cops have your current, correct address when they book you. Otherwise, you may never get the notice to appear and end up getting charged for not showing up to a court date you didn’t know about.

Penalties for Violating a Written Promise to Appear

Breaking your promise to appear in court is a misdemeanor in California. Penalties include:

  • Up to $1,000 in fines;
  • Up to 6 months in county jail; and/or
  • Informal probation up to 3 years.

The judge looks at your criminal history when deciding exactly how to punish you. No prior record? You’ll probably get fines and informal probation. But if you have a rap sheet filled with other FTAs (failures to appear), the judge might throw the book at you with jail time.

Common Defenses

Fighting these charges? Try one of these common defenses:

You Didn’t Willfully Fail to Appear

Forgetting isn’t a crime. If you legitimately forgot about your court date or mixed up the day, you didn’t willfully fail to appear. Bring evidence showing your failure to appear was a mistake, not intentional. Things like:

  • Notebooks or calendars showing you wrote down the wrong date
  • Receipts proving you were out-of-town and planned to be back for your court date
  • Doctor’s notes verifying you were hospitalized and couldn’t make it to court

You Never Got the Court Clerk’s Notice to Appear

It’s not your fault if the court clerk sent the notice to the wrong address. If you can show you never received mail telling you to appear in court, you shouldn’t be convicted. Bring evidence like:

  • A copy of the police report with your incorrect address
  • Mail returned to the court clerk as undeliverable
  • Witnesses who will testify the clerk used the wrong address

You Appeared Within a Reasonable Time

The law gives you a 30-day grace period after your scheduled court date before charging you with violating a written promise. If you appeared within a reasonable time, it shows you didn’t willfully fail to appear. For example, if you show up to court:

  • 5 days late because of a family emergency
  • 18 days late because you were hospitalized
  • 24 days late because you were out-of-town and returned as soon as possible

These may be valid excuses for missing your exact court date but making a reasonable effort to appear soon after.

Related Offenses

Violating a notice to appear often leads to additional charges like:

Failure to Appear – Penal Code 1320 PC

Penal Code 1320 PC is a broader failure to appear law. It makes it a crime to miss court on:

  • A felony case;
  • A misdemeanor case after your arraignment hearing;
  • A traffic misdemeanor case; OR
  • A violation of misdemeanor probation case.

Penal Code 1320 is harsher than 853.7 PC. It can be filed as a felony or misdemeanor and penalties are steeper – up to 3 years in jail.

Bench Warrant for Arrest

When you fail to appear, the judge will issue a warrant for your arrest. This bench warrant orders police to take you into custody on sight and haul you to court. Even if the charges get dropped later, you still have to deal with the hassle of getting arrested and posting bail on the warrant.

Stay Out of Trouble: Tips for Making Your Court Date

Getting arrested is stressful enough – don’t make it worse by missing your court date. Here are some tips:

  • Double check the date & time. When you get released, verify the court date written on your notice to appear. Double check it matches what the officer told you. Immediately put it in your calendar or set phone alerts so you don’t forget.
  • Update your address. Make sure cops have your current, correct address so you get any notices mailed by the court clerk.
  • Find your courthouse. Locate the exact courthouse address where you have to appear so you don’t show up to the wrong place.
  • Arrange transportation. Figure out how you’ll get to court – whether driving yourself, getting a ride, or taking public transit.
  • Take time off work. Tell your boss you need the day off to appear in court. Don’t schedule business trips or vacations around your court date.
  • Wake up early. Set your alarm and give yourself plenty of time to get ready and arrive early. Long lines and traffic happen.
  • Watch your health. Try to stay healthy leading up to your court date so you don’t get sick. But if you do get injured or hospitalized, get medical documentation.
  • Review your case. Talk to your criminal defense attorney about the charges so you know what to expect in court.

Following these tips will help you successfully appear in court and avoid additional charges for violating your written promise. One mistake can spiral into more legal troubles – so take your notice to appear seriously.

Get Help Fighting These Charges

Dealing with California’s complicated criminal justice system is confusing. Don’t go at it alone. The experienced attorneys at the Shouse California Law Group understand how violating a written promise to appear works. We will analyze your case and build the strongest defense to get your charges reduced or dismissed. Don’t wait – contact our lawyers today to schedule your free consultation.


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