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I'm from Montreal (Quebec). I went on vacation in California 5 years ago and got pulled over for speeding on the highway in a rental car (111 mph in a 60 mph zone).

The officer told me I was lucky he didn't simply suspend my licence and impounded the car. He saw I wasn't from around here and decided to let me go with a citation asking to show up to court. I was going back to Canada a few days later so couldn't show up on the specified date.

Back home, I called the court house in California asking what to do. They told me that I should hand write a letter to the judge explaining that I can't show up to court because I live in Canada and had other obligations. I wrote that letter, completely admitting to my guilt and apologizing, and asked whether there was another way of settling this than showing up to court.

I got a letter a few weeks later asking me to pay a fine of about US$1600. I wanted to pay but didn't have the money at the time. I neglected to contact them again to ask for a payment plan of some sort, and never received another letter or communication.

I haven't set foot in the USA again since that time, until now. I'm planing on going back but in Miami, FL (not California). Will I have trouble at the border? I'm going there by plane so I will land in New York first, then take another flight to Miami. I'm not planning to rent a car or drive.

What are the chances of me getting arrested? Is it automatically jail time or can I just pay the fine and leave? Do you think my "driving history file" from California can be pulled up/will show up on the computers in New York or Miami customs?

From my understanding, California doesn't have any reciprocal agreement with Quebec. Is that correct? For what it's worth, I haven't gotten any demerit points on my driver's licence.

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    The really smart thing to do would be asking a legal professional. Also, you could really spare us the “I deeply regret it“ routine. I, for one, don't really care but those who do are unlikely to be swayed when at the same time you casually suggest that you do have enough money but would rather not pay. What's the point? – Relaxed Apr 1 '15 at 21:17
  • Re: Your lengthy comment (which I can still see even though it was deleted). My previous post was not an answer, merely a comment, offering a tidbit of advice I thought might be useful (and since I have nothing else of substance to say, I didn't see fit to post a proper answer). FWIW, I had upvoted the question and I clearly the see the point of it. It's the lengthy and unconvincing commentary that I find unnecessary. – Relaxed Apr 2 '15 at 0:08
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    Either sticking to the facts and asking about your options or asking only about avoiding arrest/jail rather than not paying would make the question better IMO. Whatever you might be feeling or be trying to achieve, writing things like “I had my reasons“ and “I'd rather use that money for something else“ undermines the rest of your post. It led me to believe your regret is quite superficial and not heartfelt but even if you are sincere, sentences like that do not ring true and do not add anything to the question. – Relaxed Apr 2 '15 at 0:13
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    For what it's worth, you will go through customs in Montreal, not in New York or Florida. – Kareen Apr 2 '15 at 1:09
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    While I cannot comment on this specific infraction, you should keep in mind that if you are denied entry to the US even once, it will remain on your record indefinitely and will make border agents more likely to pay extra attention to you in the future. Consult an immigration lawyer and make sure there will be no issue. – SaltyNuts Apr 2 '15 at 19:55
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TL;DR: Probably not, but I still wouldn't risk it

A speeding ticket is a traffic infraction and not a criminal offence; however, failing to show up for your court date is a misdemeanor and you have likely been issued with a bench warrant. These are state-level warrants and most states do not extradite for misdemeanors, since that would require California to foot the bill for extraditing you from Florida, although there are exceptions (Nevada is apparently notorious for extraditing even for parking offenses). And if there's no nationwide warrant, it's unlikely that your offence would show up on Immigration's computers.

All that said, the US government's official advice, courtesy of the US embassy in London, is as follows:

If a traffic offense occurred while you were in the United States, and you have an outstanding fine against you, or if you did not attend your court hearing, it is possible there may be a warrant out for your arrest and you will experience significant problems when applying for admission at the U.S. port of entry.

So even if the odds of getting busted as low, given the amount of pain that would ensue if you are busted, the right thing is to contact the court house and pay your fine, which is also the only way to make sure this issue is permanently sorted out. Even if you get away with it on this trip, what are you going to do when you suddenly need to go to California some day and rent a car?

15

Step 1: Talk to a real life lawyer. They will need more exact information than you provide here, so see other steps noted below for how to get that info so you don't waste your/their time.

Reasons: You may have been charged with criminal speeding, or you may (and this is relatively likely) have a warrant for you for failure to appear, contempt of court, failure to pay, or any one of about a half-dozen other things. You may indeed have multiple such items issued, depending on the exact way the ticket was written and the temperament of the judge in the city/county that handles these matters...also, depending on the astronomical alignment of the stars. Our legal systems aren't known for their predictability.

Other Possible Steps, beyond lawyer (but not a replacement!): Call around to get in touch with the courthouse in the area where you were given the ticket, and ask to speak to someone about an old speeding ticket. After some transfers you should be able to get to the right courthouse/department and they can look up your ticket, give you the status, and also helpfully tell you if there is a warrant issued for your arrest in the case. There may not be - but there may be. I wouldn't be afraid of this part - the FBI will not descend on your house for calling the court, nor will the court suddenly "remember" the ticket and go after you. You're pretty darn safe to call and ask.

You can also Google around for the US county you received the ticket and check out their website. Often you can just enter your name and birthdate and search for old tickets, warrants, fines, etc - but this varies by county and state.

Why Not Just Go For it?

  • You can be denied entry to the US. While in no way a guarantee, nor even particularly likely, this can change at any time and there are no promises made. If you are denied entry I imagine this would ruin your vacation plans, so you do have the option to file an I-192 Application For Advance Permission To Enter as Nonimmigrant, so they'll let you know if you can even enter the country.
  • You can be denied permission to drive. Did you want to drive in Florida?
  • If originally granted permission to drive initially, there is no guarantee the ticket will be "seen" during the permission granting. During a routine traffic stop you could find out that you are not, in fact, allowed to drive, and you can be arrested on the spot and/or fined for driving without legal authorization.
  • Even if you don't drive, if for any reason you have a talk with the authorities and they notice an out of state warrant, the idea that this won't be a problem for you is simply wrong - the standard procedure is to go ahead and arrest you and take you to the local jail. You may not be extradited to California if they don't want to pay, but California doesn't have to decide that right away - you can easily spend a minimum of a business day in jail, and depending upon local laws and conditions this could be an entire weekend or longer even if you are a naturalized US citizen. How long you might be in a jail as a non-citizen could vary quite a bit. According to one legal site:

According to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, and many comparable state rules, an arrest based on a valid warrant can be executed anywhere in the United States. Whether or not that arrest will occur, however, simply depends.

  • Technically speaking, yes you could also be allowed to enter the US and then arrested once you get to immigration or beyond. We're not talking SWAT-team action here - just a casual glance at a screen that shows you have outstanding warrant(s) in a US state. While our legal systems are not the most modern in the world, the growth and sharing of databases has exploded in the past few years and it would be foolish to think old ways of doing things are permanent.

"You'll probably be fine" is rightfully considered on the same level of wisdom as behavior that generally follows someone saying "hold my beer" - it is almost never worth the risk. Sure, you might be fine - but you might also be in for a really, really unpleasant experience. And don't take my word for it - talk with a legal professional before you bet on relying on the kindness and/or complacency of the US legal system.

Again, as a lifetime citizen of the US and someone who lived 20+ years in Florida, I urge you to speak with a professional on this matter, if for no other reason than peace of mind so you can enjoy your vacation (and know if you need to cancel it!). If you were a citizen of the USA I would still urge you to do this, and as an "alien" this is a no brainer - talk with a professional first!

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    He obviously needs to figure out his legal situation regarding the failure to appear before answering question 17 on the application. – Random832 Apr 2 '15 at 13:58
  • Why would being an alien affect the possible length of someone's detention? – phoog Jan 5 '17 at 19:05
  • @phoog Special rights sometimes are only granted to citizens, such as requiring to be held for no more than X length of time before being charged/released. In the case of an alien some of these special requirements don't apply, and other extensions to the maximum time of a detection can come into play - such as referral to immigration, or "lack of ties to the community" or "flight risk" being more likely to be cited, etc. Sometimes this even applies to out-of-state residents (like how a speeding ticket is handled), so all the more true of aliens. – BrianH Jan 5 '17 at 21:56
  • @BrianDHall restrictions on being held without charge don't depend on citizenship. – phoog Jan 6 '17 at 3:02
8

As other posters have said, failure to show up for your traffic infraction is a misdemeanor which will not prevent your entry into the United States. That said, there most likely is a bench warrant issued for your appearance in court in California and they will arrest you in California. This will not cause you problems getting a license in Florida unless they have reciprocity with California, which is unlikely. Adjacent states like NY, NJ and CT have reciprocity agreements.

The United States was formed when suspicion of Federal power was at its height. After the revolutionary war, states wanted authority over their own affairs and did not honor warrants from other states prima facia. As other posters have mentioned, even today an extradition hearing is required to make you appear in California and that will only be carried out for Felonies.

As other posters have said, your best bet is to take care of your problem in California. You don't want some computer deciding that because the moon is full, wine is red and you have a warrant in California that you belong on the no fly list.

Its too bad you already plead guilty. You should have researched the posted fine for your speed first. In some states you could have at least plead no contest and kept your mouth shut about your guilt. This would have left more room for determining the fine. Here's a long shot: Ask them for a new court date so that you can change your plea. Request a supporting deposition. Go to traffic school in Canada, if possible print out your clean record at your DMV or get a cop to do it. Then send this information to the California court. Tell them you would like to settle this matter while you have some money to do it rather than risk not being in the US for your new court date. Thank them for considering your request. They will probably laugh and send you a letter with your new surcharges for failure to appear. But you might get lucky and get a 50% reduction if it is a small town. If so, pay it right away.

People may think my advice will fail, and it surely will in the city where they hear every story all the time. But I was once hormone filled and wild. I had stacks of tickets and knew every trick possible to get out of them. I leave you with 2 stories that show that the judges have the power to do what they want, so respect them. Once I was following another guy going 81 in a 55. The cop let the other guy go because he was a cop and he flagged me down seconds later. I couldn't afford the fine so I went to a small town to see the judge. A nice old lady opened the door to the waiting area. That old lady was the judge. I asked her for a reduction in fine. She fined me 85 dollars and sent me on my way. Another time my wife was hit for 73 in a 55. She just got off the thruway and the speed dropped. We both showed up and another small town judge knew right away what happened since its like their big speed trap. He let it be reduced an 1110a and even apologized for the mandatory surcharge. He probably regretted that the state had the power to tell him he needs to apply the surcharge without his discretion.

Respect the judges. They have the power to do what they want. Know your rights - its a form of respect for our laws. If you could show up you would get a supporting deposition and always try to show up and ask for a dismissal if they fail to provide it. At a minimum, you would make a deal with the prosecutor. Since you can't show up, you fight how you can - which is to delay and don't give up. They want your money and will take half - you just have to probe the system until you figure out how to give it to them. Finally, I had forgotten about an out of state ticket that hung around for 20 years. The town gave it to a collection agency who contacted me. I confirmed with the town this was legit and I paid about 50% and settled the ticket. They want your money. Your leverage is that you are not a resident so they have little to no recourse. Seek resolution and you will probably find it.

Hopefully you were driving at what you thought was a safe speed. If not you never know when lightning strikes and when it does you can't take back what you caused. I have calmed down and have no tickets in 15 years so my advice is probably outdated. Good luck, eh?

  • A note on your opening paragraph on reciprocity, Florida and California do have an agreement called the DLC, and California is NOT apart of the NRVC: carinsurance.com/kb/content26407.aspx This last part may seem better, but it's worse because residents that aren't part of the agreement are treated more harshly (arrested and taken before a judge commonly, on the spot, because their home state won't do anything about an out of state ticket): forums.officer.com/t116433 However as an out-of-country resident, these things are less clear - but those refs may be of use to you. – BrianH Apr 2 '15 at 16:17
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You would not be arrested by the U. S. Customs and Border Protection inspectors...

No Federal statute authorizes an arrest by a Federal law enforcement officer based on an outstanding state warrant. Federal officers making such an arrest are arresting either as a peace officer or a citizen depending on the law of the state in which the arrest is made.

Source: https://shusterman.com/pdf/cbpinspectorsfieldmanual.pdf

And they only swear out peace officers in the state they operate in as a Federal officer. Your warrant (if there is one) is in California and you are landing in NYC. Different state entirely. If you get stopped on the road in Florida, the police will then know about the warrant (if there is one). They will not arrest you on behalf of California, but because you have absconded, you're off to the nick (detention) until you pay whatever fine you incur in Florida.

And of course if some chance (a la White Nights) diverts a flight you are on to California, well... say hello to Bubba. There is no statute of limitations on a bench warrant.

I am also a random person on the net whose knowledge of matters arising under U. S. law is amateur in the most generous of lights.

  • +1, but minor nit: the OP will go through immigration in New York. – jpatokal Apr 2 '15 at 0:30
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    Most Americans will have no idea what "nick" means in this context. – Michael Hampton Apr 2 '15 at 0:35
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    @BrianDHall, California does not issue federal warrants, only the Federal Government issues federal warrants. The law you cited refers to federal warrants. – Gayot Fow Apr 2 '15 at 2:40
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    @jpatokal still a minor nit: the OP will go through immigration in Montreal, not in New York. – Celada Apr 2 '15 at 4:16
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    "you're off to the nick (detention) until you pay whatever fine you incur in Florida" + Florida may tell California that you are a temporary guest in their jail, and California might decide to request extradition. In that case, you are likely to be sitting in jail until you raise bail, which might be hard for someone who couldn't afford his reckless driving fine. – Andrew Lazarus Jan 5 '17 at 22:13

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