It’s not unusual for someone facing a criminal charge to make the foolish decision of absconding, which is the legal word for leaving before the case is finished, while on bond for a criminal charge in Florida. The reasons for leaving don’t always have to do with fear of punishment, but may include being overwhelmed by the pending criminal court case. Yet even the best reason or motive one may have had for leaving will be of little importance if Florida finds the absconder and begins the process of extradition.

The first important consideration is whether the case was resolved or unresolved when the defendant absconded. If the defendant plead guilty or was convicted by a jury, then the case was resolved and the defendant was waiting for sentencing. But if the defendant has not been found guilty of the offense, then the case remains unresolved and is very much still pending. 

In cases that are unresolved the Defendant’s absconding will trigger a review of the file by prosecutors to determine if the case is still viable. The criteria of viability is whether prosecutors are persuaded that the case is still winnable at trial, which is the same criteria prosecutors use in making an initial filing decision. Factors prosecutors will look to include availability of evidence and witnesses.

In a sense the case begins again. Yet it’s unlikely that a judge will grant any kind of bond while the case is pending because of the failure to appear. The only way a bond would likely be issued is if the defendant turned himself in or the defendant’s counsel can establish to the court that the case involves a nonviolent crime, that the defendant is not a threat to run again or that the case if very weak. 

Having looked at unresolved criminal cases, let’s look at resolved criminal cases in which the defendant absconded before either pleading guilty or bing found guilty at trial. Here are several factors that a judge might take into account in determine what an appropriate sentence would now be if the case was resolved before flight where the only issue is what the sentence will be rather than guilt or innocence. 

First, the court will look at the underlying Florida scoresheet and guidelines to determine what the guideline range was at the time as a baseline for sentencing. This will not necessarily be the limit of possible prison time in that other factors will also be looked at.

Second, the court will add any points for additional charges. One typical charge that prosecutors may file is simply an escape charge. Escape would typically be filed if a defendant plead or was found guilty at trial but absconded before the sentencing date. An escape charge will not only add more prison time, but make whatever time is served much more stringent.

Third, the court will look at what the defendant was doing while away. Was the defendant a model citizen in the community or was he arrested on other charges during the time he absconded?

As you can see if you have a resolved or unresolved pending criminal case in Florida, it’s important to consider all of the consequences with a criminal defense lawyer before returning to Florida.


Recently your Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorney was asked the following:

A girl who fails to appear for a grand theft hearing is still in trouble six years later despite the statute of limitations in Tampa Bay, Florida.
Van Gogh, Girl in White, 1890

My sister was arraigned on a Grand Theft charge in Florida six years ago. My family has reason to believe she may be innocent of the charge. After she attended the arraignment hearing things went from bad to worse in her life, she turned to a life on the streets and she failed to appear for any further court hearings on the Grand Theft. 

She finally contacted the family after all these years. That’s when we checked the computer and found that there were warrants for her arrest for Grand Theft as well as a Failure to Appear charge. We talked her into turning herself in, but now as she’s sitting in jail we’re wondering what will happen to her. Could the Grand Theft charge be dismissed because it violates the statute of limitations, after all it’s been over six years since the charge was filed against her? 

In criminal law the statute of limitations in Florida if five years for a Grand Theft filed as a third degree felony. That means that the state of Florida has five years to file a criminal action against someone who allegedly has committed a crime. The idea is that failure by the State to give timely notice of a crime diminishes one’s ability to effectively mount a fair defense. But here the State of Florida timely filed the charge, then your sister absconded making things worse by failing to appear for the Grand Theft. So a warrant was issued for the underlying Grand Theft, then for the second felony, the Failure to Appear.

Typically, the State of Florida must show that it made a good faith effort to find a Defendant once an arrest warrant is issued. Failing to show an effort was made to find her could result in dismissal. However, if your sister was living on the streets without a permanent address or living at an address that was different from the one given as her dwelling during the course of the Grand Theft charge a Judge would likely find that law enforcement didn’t find her because she didn’t want to be found. 
Still it’d be interesting to see if she had any police contact while living on the streets. If officers made contact with her for an infraction such as jaywalking and failed to arrest her on the outstanding arrest warrant, a Judge could find that law enforcement failed to meet its good faith burden of attempting to find her
Ultimately even if your sister didn’t commit the underlying Grand Theft she made a terrible mistake in not appearing for court hearings thus giving the State of Florida the sword of a new felony, the Failure to Appear.
It’s especially heartening for a Clearwater Criminal Lawyer to hear that your family has reached out to help your sister during this holiday season. Yet as important as the resolution of her case is, letting her know that the family will be there to support her while she gets back on her feet will give her the strength to get thru this.