Facing down a criminal conviction can be incredibly unnerving, but fleeing can leave you in even bigger trouble than before you started. That’s because failure to appear is a charge in and of itself that can have serious consequences, even if you are ultimately found not guilty of the original crimes.
This was seen recently in a case involving a Bahamian man who reportedly fled the country while awaiting sentencing for his DUI manslaughter conviction in 2000 following a crash that resulted in the death of a 44-year-old married mother of two. He was fighting his conviction first in Palm Beach County courts and then in his native country, but he lost his appeal in 2003 and was ordered to report to Palm Beach County to serve his sentence, according to the Palm Beach Post. Instead, he allegedly cut off his ankle bracelet and fled. He was arrested by authorities in the Bahamas and after exhausting all appeals, was extradited. Now in addition to the DUI manslaughter conviction, he is facing two failure to appear charges.
F.S. 843.15 outlines failure of defendant on bail to appear. The law says that anyone who is released pursuant to F.S. Chapter 903 and who willfully fails to appear before any court or judicial officer as required incurs a forfeiture of any security that was promised or given as a condition of release. If he or she was released in connection with a felony charge or while awaiting sentence or pending appellate court review after conviction, it’s considered a third-degree felony, meaning it’s punishable by up to five years in prison. That’s on top of the original sentence.
If you’re released in connection with a charge that is a misdemeanor and then fail to appear, you can be found guilty of a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail.
When is a Failure to Appear Willful?
A necessary element in failure to appear cases is willfulness. This is one element our Palm Beach criminal defense attorneys can sometimes successfully challenge in failure to appear cases. Although there is no clear cut-and-dried explanation of what this entails, case law has established some parameters. For instance, in the 2012 appellate court decision in Corrales v. State, justices ruled there was insufficient evidence to prove willfulness for a conviction for failure to appear. In that instance, the state attorney’s office presented no testimony or other evidence indicating that there had been an intentional failure to appear on the part of the defendant. Absent any other evidence, merely showing proof that plaintiff’s attorney had received notice to attend court was insufficient grounds to convict his client for failure to attend.
In a lot of these cases, people can show the failure to appear wasn’t willful due to circumstances that are outside of their control. An example might be a vehicle breakdown or accident on the way to court or some medical condition that kept them from attending.
The Bahamian man will likely have a tougher time arguing this kind of a defense, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he couldn’t be spared some of the more serious consequences with the help of an experienced defense lawyer.
Call Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
NEW: DUI manslaughter convict, on loose for 14 years, back in PBC Jail, Dec. 14, 2017, By Olivia Hitchcock, Palm Beach Post
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