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Bench Warrant for Failure to Appear (FTA) with Certain Prior FTAs

On September 22nd, 2022, the governor of California approved AB 2294, adding new conditions for the issuance of bench warrants under PC 978.5. The new amendments introduce new laws for the following:

  • Issuance of bench warrants for failing to appear (FTA) in court for citations, arrests, or a conviction of
  • Alternatives punishments for repeat offenders of retail theft, including diversion programs and deferred entry of judgment

Ordinarily, when a person fails to appear in court as promised or when ordered to do so, the court can issue a bench warrant.

With the new amendment, the court can issue a bench warrant if you have failed to appear and have within the last 6 months been arrested or cited for a misdemeanor or felony theft of a retail store, also for which you have failed to appear. This amendment shall be in effect until 1st January 2026.

When Does Failure to Appear (FTA) Arise?

The law requires you to appear in court under the following scenarios:

  • When issued with a citation by a police officer and you promise to appear
  • If ordered by a judge or magistrate
  • If released on bail
  • When released on your own recognizance on the promise that you will appear in court on a specified date and time
  • When indicted and the court requires you to appear for arraignment
  • Where counsel has authorization to appear but the court supersedes that authorization. A defendant can authorize a lawyer to appear on their behalf, but if the court orders the defendant to appear in person, the court can issue a bench warrant if that order is not honored.

To demonstrate, let's say you get arrested for theft at a retail store. Upon checking your details, the arresting police officer decides to release you because you meet the conditions for release, and you also promise to appear in court.

If you don't honor your promise, that is a Failure to Appear (FTA), and the judge can issue a bench warrant ordering you to show up in court.

A bench warrant should not be confused with an arrest warrant. These two types of warrants differ in the following ways:

  • The court issues an arrest warrant when there is evidence you have committed a crime. For instance, the presence of fingerprint or DNA evidence, or eyewitness accounts. On the other hand, the court does not require evidence to issue a bench warrant. It only issues a bench warrant to make you appear in court.
  • Arrest warrants have country-wide application while bench warrants are subject to jurisdiction boundaries.
Diversions and Deferred Entry of Judgment Programs

The approved bill gives the district or county prosecutor the authority to subject a person charged with theft or repeat theft to a diversion program or deferred entry of judgment program.

A pretrial diversion program is authorized in cases such as:

  • Where a defendant has a mental disorder
  • Crimes involving some controlled substances
  • The defendant is a veteran or currently serving in the US military

Under a deferred entry of judgment program, you plead guilty but instead of being sentenced, you get offered the alternative to sign up for a behavioral correction education program. Once you complete the program, the court dismisses the charges against on the assumption that you are reeducated and fit to be in society.

However, if you enter a deferred entry of judgment program but do not complete it, the court can reinstate the charges against you and hand you the maximum sentence.

Although diversion programs and deferred entry of judgment programs operate on the same concept, they differ in the following ways:

  • A deferred entry of judgment requires you to enter a guilty plea. You don't need to plead guilty to qualify for a diversion program
  • If you don't complete a deferred entry of judgment program, your sentence will be reinstated. There is no automatic sentencing if you enter a diversion program. If you do not complete a diversion program, you can contest the initial charges against you in a new court case.
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