What is a Notice to Appear in Court?

Many people have been led to believe that law enforcement is required to make an arrest in order to charge a person with a crime. However, in Florida, the police have the option to bring a criminal charge against a person without taking an individual into custody. This procedure is referred to as a “Notice to Appear” and is authorized by Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.125. So, what is a Notice to Appear in Court? If you have received a “Notice to Appear” in lieu of a formal arrest, you should know that…

You Are Still Facing a Criminal Charge

  • Your “notice to appear” is the equivalent of an arrest;
  • Your conviction for the “Notice to Appear” offense could result in having a permanent criminal record;
  • Your conviction could jeopardize employment & licensing;
  • Your case is scheduled before a Judge at the Criminal Justice Center;
  • A State Prosecutor is assigned to your case and will seek a sentence that he feels is appropriate at your court appearance;
  • Your conviction for this offense will carry a fine and could include a jail sentence and/or a lengthy period of probation; Your failure to appear will likely result in a warrant for your arrest.

Who Qualifies for a Notice to Appear?

A police officer is authorized under Florida law to issue a “notice to appear’ in lieu of arrest if you have sufficient ties to the community and you have never previously failed to appear for court. However, just because the officer elected not to formally arrest you, does not mean you are facing something less than a criminal charge.

Why was I Given a Notice to Appear?

Law enforcement is sometimes motivated to issue a “Notice to Appear” because it allows an officer to avoid transporting a person to the Pinellas County Jail. Not only do the police save time, but the expense of transport and the cost of housing an individual in the jail are not incurred. We have consulted with many people who were “sent the wrong message” and believed that having received a “Notice to Appear” was “no big deal.” It is highly important to understand that the Pinellas County Criminal Justice System makes no distinction whatsoever between crimes that were charged by “Notice to Appear” versus those crimes where an arrest occurred. Regardless of whether an arrest took place, the courts will treat the case as any other criminal offense where the full range of penalties, including fines, probation, conviction, and jail, are available. Failing to show up in court on a “Notice to Appear” will likely cause the judge to issue a warrant for “failure to appear” that carries a monetary bond.

Examine Your Notice to Appear

Law enforcement uses FDLE Form COCR59 to generate a “Notice to Appear” for a criminal charge. If you examine the “Notice to Appear” that you received, you will see that the top portion of the form is titled “Complaint/Arrest Affidavit.” That is because this form can used by the police to make formal arrests or to issue “Notices to Appear.” The first portion of the form is used to record identifying information such as name, address, date of birth, height, weight, gender, appearance, employment, etc. The middle portion briefly states the officer’s “probable cause” to believe that a particular individual committed a certain crime. In nearly all cases, the “probable cause” portion of the affidavit contains just a few facts coupled with “boiler-plate” language from the Florida Statutes defining the particular offense. At the very bottom of the form is the section marked “Notice to Appear Only.” In this portion, law enforcement can specify the date and time where you are to appear in court. In Pinellas County, misdemeanor “Notice to Appear” cases are handled in Division P15 at the Clearwater Criminal Justice Center.

Printed and Handwritten Notices to Appear: Is There a Difference?

The “Notice to Appear” form that is issued to an accused person is sometimes yellow in color, if law enforcement is using a “carbon copy” type form. On the other hand, some officers or police agencies have the capability of printing a “Notice to Appear” from the computer in a police cruiser. Sometimes, the fact that a person receives a handwritten “Notice to Appear” misleads the recipient into believing that the situation is not a serious issue, given the informal looking document they have received and the lack of any arrest. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Another form of a “Notice to Appear” is on a document that bears a close resemblance to a civil citation or traffic ticket. Once again, the fact that this document looks similar to a ticket can lull an accused person into a false sense of security that they were not charged with a crime and “all they got was a ticket.” In many instances, the “Notice to Appear” issued on the citation-type form is printed from a computer in law enforcement’s vehicle and contains all of the same information that the “Notice to Appear” FDLE COCR59 form does.

Possible Solutions and Strategies in Notice to Appear Cases

Intervening with the prosecutor – In other cases, it may be advisable to have the prosecutor review law enforcement’s investigation and charging decision before taking any action in court. Unlike cases where an individual is arrested, the State Attorney’s Office will not normally conduct an independent review of a charge issued by a “Notice to Appear” unless such a review is sought by the defense. When our office intervenes with the State in this manner, it is for the purpose of persuading the prosecutor that law enforcement’s decision to bring a criminal charge was erroneous and unwarranted. Depending on the facts and circumstances of the case, we may able to make legal or factual arguments designed to have the State file a “No Information” to the criminal charge. The State may be receptive to such arguments since “Notices to Appear” are usually issued to persons with little to no prior criminal history. Persuading the State Attorney’s Office to file a “No Information” would result in the charge being dropped.

Getting the Charge Dismissed – Criminal charges that are filed by a “Notice to Appear” may be eligible for participation in the Pre-Trial Intervention Program (PTI). The PTI Program provides an opportunity to obtain a guaranteed dismissal of the charge.

Resolving the case with a single court appearance – In many instances, having an attorney appear with you at the very first court date indicated by the “Notice to Appear” can be highly beneficial. The first court date is the first opportunity to resolve the case before the judge. Because of the high volume of criminal cases charged by “Notices to Appear,” the judge and the prosecutor may be motivated to engage in negotiations with your attorney to impose the most minimal disposition possible, so as to dispose of the case immediately and “on the spot.” In many situations, these early negotiations at the first court date can be directed towards simply resolving the case for a fine, and avoiding conviction, probation, or jail time.

Now You Know… It’s Not Just a Ticket

A “Notice to Appear” is used to charge people with criminal offenses in lieu of formal arrest. Take the time to consult with our office before you spend a lifetime reflecting on the results of a court hearing that you attended on your own. Don’t face a criminal charge without the benefit of an experienced Pinellas County criminal defense attorney by your side. We are former state prosecutors who exclusively practice criminal defense in Pinellas County, Florida. We routinely and regularly appear before the local judges who are assigned to and hear “Notice to Appear” cases. As a result, we understand how the system works. We are dedicated to achieving the best possible outcome and addressing the concerns that are most important to you.

If you have received a “Notice to Appear,” call our office for a free consultation at (727) 578-0303. We can help!

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