When you receive a traffic ticket in Virginia, the officer will normally write a court date on your ticket.
Failing to appear in court on that date will usually result in both a guilty verdict and a fine.
In this article, we’ll talk about what you should do if you miss your court date for a traffic ticket in Virginia.
We’ll also talk about the difference between a conviction for a traffic infraction and a conviction for a traffic misdemeanor.
Understanding Your Traffic Ticket
The actual appearance of your traffic ticket can vary based on where you received it.
However, all Virginia traffic tickets will convey a few important pieces of information, such as the crime you’re being charged with and the court that has jurisdiction over your case.
Most notably for this discussion, your traffic ticket will always list:
- Your court date.
- Whether or not you can pay the ticket online.
In regards to the second point, your ticket will usually have a small checkbox next to a sentence which reads:
“You may avoid coming to court only if this block is checked and all instructions on defendant’s copy are followed.”
If the officer checks this box, you don’t have to show up in court. Instead, you can simply pay your ticket ahead of time.
However, note that doing so is the same as entering a guilty plea, and will result in points on your license.
On the other hand, if that box isn’t checked, or if it’s crossed out, you must show up in court for a hearing.
This almost always indicates that you have been charged with a misdemeanor, not a traffic infraction.
In general, this means you should consult with a lawyer before your court date arrives.
Even seemingly minor misdemeanors can have significant consequences, such as heavy fines or even the issuance of a capeas order for your arrest.
What Happens if I Already Missed My Court Date?
If you already missed your court date, you should immediately take steps to find out what happened in your absence.
Generally, this means calling the Clerk for the court that had jurisdiction over your case.
Court clerks are officials who are responsible for the court’s money and record keeping.
While the judge may be responsible for the final decision in your case, most everything else that happens in the courthouse is the responsibility of the Clerk.
This means that they are the best person to call if you miss your court date.
You can find their contact information on the Virginia Judicial System website.
Make sure to click on the court which has jurisdiction over your case.
After calling them and explaining your issue, the Clerk will usually inform you that one of two things has happened.
If you missed court for a traffic infraction, the court will likely find you guilty in absentia and impose court costs and fines for the charge.
If you missed court for a misdemeanor, the judge will issue either a capias order or a “show cause” order, as explained below.
In this situation, you should contact an attorney immediately, or risk facing harsher penalties.
We’ll briefly explain each scenario below.
Scenario 1: The Court Tried You in Your Absence
If you missed your court date for a traffic infraction such as speeding, the court will usually decide to try you in your absence.
This means that the judge will find you guilty of the crime, and then issue you a small fine.
Scenario 2: The Judge Issued a Warrant For Your Arrest
If you fail to appear in court for a misdemeanor traffic offense, such as reckless driving, the court will not try you in your absence.
Instead, two things will happen in your case.
First, the judge will charge you with failure to appear, which is itself a misdemeanor in Virginia.
Second, the judge will issue either a “show cause” warrant or a warrant for your arrest.
Basically, the “show cause” orders you to tell the court why you didn’t show up, while the warrant authorizes the police to arrest you at any point.
For this reason, failing to appear in court for a misdemeanor offense may result in additional charges against you, as well as harsher treatment from the court.
At this point, you must hire an attorney to help you deal with your case.
Generally, you can avoid the harshest penalties by convincing the court that your absence wasn’t intentional, such as if your car broke down on the way to court.
However, this strategy can be difficult depending on the judge and court.
In most cases, the outcome will depend on the discretion of the judge, so you’ll want to present the strongest case possible when you next appear in court.
Appeals and Motions to Rehear
If you missed the court date for a traffic infraction, you’ll have a few different options for resolving your case.
The first one, which applies in the majority of cases, is simply to pay your fine and be on your way.
However, you should always weigh your options carefully before paying the fine.
In some situations, it may be advantageous to instead fight the ticket.
For example, the DMV may suspend your license if you accrue more than 18 DMV demerit points in a single year.
If you are near that point threshold, failing to file an appeal could mean losing your license.
For this reason, individuals who have been found guilty of other traffic offenses in the past year may want to discuss their options with a lawyer before paying the fine.
Finally, remember that you only have ten days to file an appeal in your case.
Missing your court date for a traffic infraction such as speeding isn’t really a big deal.
In fact, most of the time all you’ll have to do is pay the ticket online.
However, if you were instead charged with a misdemeanor, or if the judge decides to issue a warrant for your arrest, you should speak with an attorney immediately.
Remember, failure to appear in court is itself a misdemeanor in Virginia, carrying additional fines as well as the possibility of jail time.
A good Virginia traffic attorney can help you understand your exact legal situation, and the best way to proceed.