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I was driving to Los Angeles from the Bay area, and was on a wonderful, straight road with no cars in sight. For whatever reason (doesn't matter) I was briefly speeding around 111mph (179 km/h), and was pulled over by an officer. This isn't on an interstate road.

Some facts:

  • I was driving a rental car which has a copy of my driving license (from Czech Republic) and credit card.
  • I am a resident of the United Kingdom, and this has been my first time in the USA.
  • I have no California driving license / residency status

How this happened:

  • I was given a citation, requiring mandatory appearance.
  • The officer said to await a letter, which would arrive within 30 days, which is a week before I leave the country.
  • I have not received the letter and called the court after the period expired. Then scheduled a date 6 days before my flight back
  • The day came and I cycled to the local court, where I read online it would be. In reality it was 4 hours away and I wasn't able to make it. The next available hearing was a day after I leave the country.
  • I called them up again, asking what I can do. They suggested I write a letter to the judge asking to remove the mandatory appearance, which I have sent by FedEx and was delivered before the next Friday. I don't know if they read it or what the action on it is.
  • Left the country, a friend of mine at the address I stayed at forwarded the letter containing the text below:

You have failed to settle this case. Your continued failure to comply will result in a driver's license suspension and increased bail in the amount of $286.00 and a civil assessment of $300.00. Any unpaid balance will be referred to the franchise tax board for collection.

Your appearance in court is mandatory to clear this citation. You must appear at the traffic division counter on Fridays only at 8:00 A.M. or 1:00 P.M. before 03/23/17.

Is there anything I can do at all? I am trying to contact them but I don't think there's any way I can talk to the judge directly, or to have a video conference with someone who has authority to resolve this.

I am getting deeper and deeper in their bureaucratic system and am worried it'll end up in an international search warrant and time in US jail.

What to do?

locked by JoErNanO Mar 31 '17 at 14:51

This post has been locked due to the high amount of off-topic comments generated. For extended discussions, please use chat.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – JonathanReez Mar 28 '17 at 7:34
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    I've called the court and they removed the mandated appearance after I wrote the letter. There is $899 to pay however. Thank you all for help – code ninja Mar 28 '17 at 21:16
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    If the comments are off topic, and you start your comment by writing "Off Topic" then do not post a comment. Please use the chat for extended discussions. – JoErNanO Mar 31 '17 at 14:55
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The "speeding in excess of 100mph" charge, CVC 22348(b), is a civil infraction. We do not issue arrest warrants for those. However, failure to appear (CVC 40508) is a crime, and this charge will become that soon.

On the speeding-over-100, you (or your lawyer) do need to face the judge; and that is so they can give you a stern warning, explain the future consequences for doing it again, and make you "scared straight". (straight is US slang for obeying the law).

Failure to appear = Emergency

Failure to appear, however, is a misdemeanor and will almost certainly result in a warrant for your arrest. This is an actual crime. It may be surprising that a civil infraction turns into a criminal matter if ignored, but that is exactly what happens. Given the language in the letter and the fact that you obviously missed your resolve-it date, that may have already happened.

Heading home without handling this properly is a novice mistake. Your only option now is to hire a lawyer, since you have left the country. Hire one who is local to the court your ticket is in - it should be a lawyer who knows the judges and staff, and isn't disliked by them. My favorite way to get lawyer referrals is call other nearby lawyers who do not practice in that area of law, and go "I'm sorry, do you know anyone who could help me?" Make 3-4 such calls, you'll start hearing the same name over and over.

FTA is a new, second charge, so that would be two charges. The upside is this makes it easier to plea-bargain since you now have two things to trade.

How to plead it

All this will happen at arraignment, which is only the initial phase; but given your options it will surely finish here. That is common in traffic matters.

If you had done this sooner, you could have pled not-guilty and asked for a proper trial (which is still a 2-3 minute affair). An order would be issued for the officer to come and testify. Generally if the officer appears, you lose, and if he doesn't, you're off scot-free. But you lost that opportunity.

Next you can say you do not wish to plead guilty to 111 mph but would plead guilty to 99 mph, and hope the judge will allow that. The reason to do this is to save a few hundred dollars (the point on your record and opportunity for traffic school doesn't matter to you). You are betting the judge doesn't want to waste time with a trial. (except now he knows there won't be a trial, oops). You can still try arguing it; good chance it will work.

However, if the failure to appear exists, it's more complicated. You must get that dismissed! You can argue your bona-fide effort to reach the courthouse previously. It would have helped if you were standing in front of him personally, obviously come quite a distance and effort to answer this charge, can't do that now, but judges are pretty sanguine about dismissing failure-to-appear if you really do appear (via lawyer is fine) willingly out of your own initiative Of course, this will only impress them if you do it right away.

The key is to resolve it together with the underlying ticket as a plea-bargain; if you already resolved the ticket, you have nothing to bargain with! So you ask the judge to dismiss the failure-to-appear if you plead guilty on the 99 mph. Or if that is not acceptable to the judge, ask to dismiss the FTA if you plead guilty on 111mph.

How do you argue this now you're gone?

I would have said to try trial-by-mail. However the CVC 22348(b) is crystal clear; you must show up in court in person: either you or your lawyer.

If the failure-to-appear was not a factor, I might have said try it anyway and see if it works. But it's a gamble; the judge may not have the freedom to waive the CVC 22348(b) requirement since you always can hire a lawyer.

However, dismissing the failure-to-appear is an absolute top priority. This would make you an international criminal, and that's not nearly as much fun as the James Bond movies make it out to be.

As such, I would say you are pretty much stuck with hiring a lawyer. Because he can manage every possible contingency. He's pretty much going to argue what I said above. You could've done it yourself if you'd done it sooner. Live and learn.

It really doesn't help your case that you were inside the USA the entire time the ticket was pending and you did nothing. They will feel like you consider their court a joke. On the other hand, if you retain a lawyer after you had already made your escape, that says you take your relationship with America seriously, and earlier was a novice mistake you own up to. They will not care that you fled the country since they would not have sent you to jail for this.

You need to do this right away. If you wait months -- or worse, if you put it off until the next time you want to visit the USA! -- it will be much, much worse. It happens all the time where a traveler clears the pre-check, arrives at JFK Airport, and gets denied entry because of something the pre-check missed and put on a plane back home (at his expense).



By the way, when you sign a traffic ticket in CA and many other states, you are not admitting guilt. You are swearing a promise to appear in court, which is part of a fair exchange: you promise to appear later, and they let you go now. If you are convicted of violating that promise, you won't be trusted in the future, and could be hauled to jail while you watch your friends be cited and released for the exact same charge.

And if an FTA remains unresolved, then the next time any state officer stops you for any reason, he will probably take you to jail. (he'll make a judgment call based on his ability and the seriousness of the underlying crime). Sorry, if you're sitting at JFK Airport, California will not pay to get you extradited (give you a free flight to CA) for a speeding ticket.

Also, if you had a CA driver's license, insted of 99 you'd plead 29 over the speed limit; 30-over disqualifies you for traffic school by mail, which would remove the point from your record.

  • California is a ton more strict than Texas then. In Texas you can handle failure to appear after you've gone to another state or country by paying the appearance bond and a fine. – mark b Mar 31 '17 at 18:26
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    @markb Texas also considers 100mph driving to be only "15 over the limit" :) CA is a weird duck because it has western state distances, but New England speed limits owing to dense population...rural I-5 gets traffic jams! Anyway the FTA is up to the court, but most of the harshness here is owing to the underlying charge. – Harper Mar 31 '17 at 19:38
  • "Sorry, if you're sitting at JFK Airport, California will not extradite you (give you a free flight to CA) for a speeding ticket." Was this supposed to say "New York will not extradite you"? – Kyralessa Mar 6 at 9:05
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    @Kyralessa this is in context. OP has a California speeding FTA. "Sitting" at JFK Airport in an extradition context implies being held by immigration, which is Federal. But sure, pretend he cleared immigration and turned himself into state airport police. Now they phone up CA. "Do you want him?" Answer: "Yeah. But not badly enough to pay for his airfare, let alone an officer to escort him." – Harper Mar 6 at 14:47
  • @Harper, I understand, but that's not how the word "extradite" works. If New York is handing over the suspect, and California is requesting the suspect, then New York is extraditing. California is requesting the extradition. – Kyralessa Mar 6 at 15:28
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While speeding, normally an infraction, often does not require a court appearance, you were driving 111mph, which is sometimes considered Reckless Driving, a misdemeanor, a more serious charge, hence the mandatory appearance. You'd have to check your citation to see exactly what you've been charged with, but whether you were charged with an infraction or a misdemeanor, the point is that you have a citation and need to deal with it.

While it's phenomenally unlikely (I'd say impossible, frankly) that you'll be the subject of an international extradition over this, having this on your record may significantly complicate things in the future. A warrant for your arrest may be issued, which could cause you to be denied entry to the US in the future, or worse, your arrest after you land. Being detained for hours, if not longer, after a long international flight is not fun. The US government might also share your information with other countries, which could pose problems at immigration elsewhere. In short, it's best to clear this up the right way.

Even if you have no plans to return to the United States now, you never know if, five years from now, your boss might ask you to attend an important meeting in San Francisco. Will you want to refuse because there might be a warrant out for your arrest?

If you are unable to reach the court and hear a response to your letter requesting that they waive your appearance, your best bet is to hire a lawyer to represent you. I would search for traffic lawyers in the city where the court is located and call up several. Here's some basic information about how that works. They will take your information, assess whether they can help, and provide information about what will happen and their fees. It's worth contacting a few firms to find someone you feel most comfortable about. Most will offer a free consultation, so you don't have to commit to anything right away. For a situation like this, you want someone who handles a lot of traffic cases in that particular court, as they will have experience with the local procedures.

While a lawyer is an additional expense you will have to pay, it will be less costly in money and time than traveling all the way back to California yourself, and significantly easier than being arrested on a bench warrant. Your lawyer may also be able to request that the judge waive some of the additional fines for your failure to respond.

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    Before agreeing to lawyer's fees, contact the embassy of your country. You'll probably need the lawyer anyway, but it couldn't hurt to see what the embassy can do. – WGroleau Mar 27 '17 at 21:22
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – JoErNanO Mar 29 '17 at 17:05
  • That's largely what I was trying to say but people didn't read my post carefully. Looks like some people are guilty of "reckless reading". – Tensigh Nov 20 '17 at 8:06
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I got ticketed for doing 120 MPH in a 75 MPH zone. Except for the speed, everything else was safe; clear day, mostly empty interstate road, no lane change etc.. The cop who ticketed me was sympathetic but said that anything more than 30MPH over the speed limit triggers a "reckless" charge that includes a mandatory court appearance. Since I was a thousand miles from home, I got a lawyer to represent me; he pleaded me down, and including his cost, saved me a few hundred dollars off the fine, and probably thousands from insurance premiums, not to mention the cost and effort to show up at court so far from home.

In short, hire a decent lawyer and let them go to bat for you!

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    @user102008: This answer is still informative, regardless of the state, and even the case. If you check the accepted answer carefully, you'll notice that it has exactly nothing specific to California either, and little in terms of the specifics of the case. For one, I'm grateful to this answer for reinforcing the point that the accepted answer also made: get a lawyer, despite the costs. – Sz. Mar 30 '17 at 19:39
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    @Sz.: For example, you said that anything more than 30mph is automatically reckless driving. But in California, the speed alone, no matter how high, does not by itself imply reckless driving. So that part is not relevant. – user102008 Mar 30 '17 at 20:20
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    (Just for the record: "you said that ..." No, it was not me.) – Sz. Mar 30 '17 at 21:03
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    Normally I don't fastidiously correct people, but since your wrong info is at least on the right track, in California the threshold from civil infraction to serious matter is 100mph, and it isn't "reckless driving" but rather a more serious version of the speed law. – Harper Mar 30 '17 at 23:01
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    The officer was not sympathetic enough, apparently. – FreshAir Mar 31 '17 at 6:31
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What you probably should have done, from the very beginning, was seek legal counsel. You signed a promise to appear when you were cited. Here in California, those are taken very seriously. You were leaving the country, and had a mandatory appearance. The court is slamming you with fines really just based on your failure to follow through and show up -- but an attorney could have shown up in your place, just the same. A bench warrant is the next thing to happen.

The "letter to the judge" approach is questionable if you asked the court staff -- specifically because all California court staff are strictly forbidden to give legal advice!!!

If you never planned to come back to the States, this wouldn't even be an issue. There are attorney services here that deal specifically with traffic issues and you probably would have had far fewer headaches if you'd contacted one before you left. Good luck in cleaning this up.

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This is a legal issue and might have been better answered on 'law'

If this were Texas, and California is likely similar, a phone call or letter to the court, offering to pay the fine and an explanation as to why you couldn't appear will probably be enough. They aren't likely interested in extraditing, or making the OPs life miserable. They just would like the fine to be paid.

Offering to pay it, in return for dropping the warrant fees would likely get an approval. If not, then an offer to pay the fine for speeding plus the warrant fee will likely get approval.

Also, you cannot simply assume that a certain miles per hour over a speed limit is automatically a greater offense. The offense will be listed on the citation. I am not sure about California, but in Texas NO speed (as long as the citation is for speeding) is a jailable offense. (however, failure to appear in court is) but it's usually used in order to get the accused to pay the fine.

In some jurisdictions where speeding is a criminal offense, the accused is sometimes entitled to a trial by jury, and so in order to save the state the time and expense of a trial, they'd gladly accept a payment of the fine to save them the trouble.

If the offense really was escalated to a 'reckless driving' and considered to be ultra-serious then they probably would not have let the driver go with a simple signing of the citation.

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    (I am not a lawyer.) Reckless driving is a misdemeanor in California. But so is jaywalking. As full as the jails are already, they're not going to detain anyone before trial unless there was likelihood that further unlawful activity would occur. leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/…. – Xavier J Mar 28 '17 at 21:00
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    It is also true in California that speed does not automatically imply reckless driving after somebody appealed up a couple of steps and set precedent. – Joshua Mar 29 '17 at 18:17
  • @XavierJ Jaywalking is not a misdemeanor. It is an infraction, which is a lesser level of crime. – Andrew Lazarus Jul 22 '17 at 0:15
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I suggest writing to the judge and asking him how to resolve the situation since you are not an American citizen and are located thousands of miles away from California with no plans to return there in the immediate future.

The judge will in all likelihood make the necessary adjustments to the case and send you a new disposition.

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    Writing to the judge (the court clerk really) is a reasonable action. I do not think it is likely for the judge to make adjustments. It's possible but there is such a variation in which judges are overseeing proceedings and their mood on any given day to suggest that it is likely. – Freiheit Mar 28 '17 at 19:25
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If you're only being charged with speeding (a moving violation), you can probably just pay the fine. Since you don't have a California Driver's License, it most likely won't affect your driving record. If you do move to California at a later date and get a license, my guess is the record would be clean.

In California, a traffic violation is automatically removed off of your record after 18 months provided you don't get another ticket. But again, you don't have a California license so this might not apply.

If you are being charged with a criminal offense (reckless driving), I strongly recommend a lawyer. But if it's just the traffic violation, pay the fine.

According to this site, any traffic violation where you get a ticket is a "mandatory appearance" unless you pay the fine: courts.ca.gov/8452.htm He didn't get arrested for reckless driving; he got a speeding ticket which still mandates appearing in front of a judge (again, unless you pay the fine).

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    The issue is mandatory court appearance. From this issues like warrant for failure to appear arise and it becomes much more inflated – code ninja Mar 28 '17 at 8:54
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    111mph is not just a traffic violation. It is reckless driving, and the court is treating it as such. – Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 28 '17 at 12:16
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    I said "IF"."IF you're only being charged with a moving violation.." Also as in IF you read what he said, he left out the actual charge from the original post. Please READ my comments carefully before marking this negative. – Tensigh Nov 20 '17 at 8:04
  • This is unfairly marked negative. code ninja never stated what the violation was and everyone assumed it was reckless driving. This is USUALLY the case but the officer has discretion and can simply make the charge "excessive speed". People automatically assumed what the charge was without knowing the facts and marked my answer as negative. I even linked to a site that explains when an appearance is mandatory. – Tensigh Jan 27 '18 at 12:09

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