Special thanks to Texas Fair Defense Project and Texas Appleseed for this article.
What are the two types of warrants in a fine-only case?
There are two types of warrants that may be issued in a fine-only case.
- Failure to Appear (also called a “FTA” or “Alias”) Warrant. Your ticket instructs you to appear in court on or by a certain date. If you do not show up in court by the date on the ticket, a warrant may be issued for your arrest. You may also be charged with the separate criminal offense of Failure to Appear or Violating Promise to Appear. This separate charge carries its own possible fines and court costs.
- Capias Pro Fine Warrant. This type of warrant is issued if you fail to pay your fine in full after you have been convicted. If you are on a payment plan and stop making payments, the court may issue a capias pro fine warrant. The court may also issue one if you fail to complete court-ordered community service on time.
When can't a court issue a Failure to Appear (Alias) warrant?
Before issuing either type of warrant, the court is required by state law to take certain steps.
The court may not issue a Failure to Appear (Alias) Warrant unless it sends you a notice that includes the following:
- The date and time that you must appear before the judge within the next 30 days;
- The name and address of the court;
- Information regarding alternatives to full payment of the fine;
- An explanation of the consequences if you fail to appear.
You may call the court and ask for an alternative date to the one provided in the notice.
If you do not show up by the date on this notice, the court may issue an FTA warrant.
If you never received this notice, call the court. Set up a time to see the judge and ask for the warrant to be cleared since the notice was never received.
When can't a court issue a Capias Pro Fine warrant?
The court may not issue a Capias Pro Fine warrant unless a hearing is held to determine your ability to pay. This is sometimes referred to as a “show cause” hearing, meaning you need to show the court the cause or reason you did not pay. This reason could be that you did not have the money. Come to court prepared to show your income and expenses.
You should receive a summons in the mail telling you when this hearing will occur.
The court can issue a Capias Pro Fine if they find at the hearing that you did have the ability to pay OR if you fail to appear at this hearing.
If you receive a notice about a hearing related to the ticket, do not skip the hearing because you know you cannot pay. This hearing is an opportunity to explain to the judge your financial circumstances and avoid having a warrant issued for your arrest.
What if a warrant has been issued for my arrest?
If a warrant has already been issued for your arrest, follow these steps.
Contact the court. Call the court clerk and explain why you didn’t show up to court, make your payments or do community service. Ask when you can speak with the judge to arrange another way to satisfy what you owe.
If your warrant was for failing to appear and the court insists on your posting an appearance bond to see a judge, tell them that you cannot afford the appearance bond and need a personal bond instead because you are unable to pay the appearance bond. A personal bond is a promise to appear at a future date, but that does not require the payment of any money that day.
If the court insists you post an appearance bond that you cannot afford in order to see a judge, go to TicketHelpTexas.org's Documents and Forms and download the Personal Bond letter.
If the court clerk is not helpful in arranging a time for you to speak to a judge, write a letter to the judge. In your letter, explain your reasons for not paying, and ask for a time to speak to the judge. Also, ask the judge to recall the warrant until the hearing. Go to TicketHelpTexas.org's Documents and Forms for sample letters asking for Community Service, Payment Plan or Waiver.
When you go to court, you should not be arrested or jailed on warrants from fine-only cases. But if you have warrants for more serious misdemeanors or felonies, there’s no guarantee you won’t be arrested.
Ticket Help Texas is a resource for Texans who owe fines and costs in criminal cases that they are unable to pay.
This article explains what to do if the court orders you to pay a fine that you cannot afford.
This guide was published by the Texas Fair Defense Project and Texas App