If You Don’t Show Up To Court For A Criminal Case, What Will Happen To You?
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When you receive a court summons–an official order to appear in a specific court at a specific time–you are expected to show up. Even for a minor crime, such as a traffic offense, a court summons is a binding order that should not be taken lightly. Obviously, no one is excited about the prospect of going to court.
But the best thing to do with a court summons is to record the date in your calendar, make the proper arrangements, and arrive promptly at court for your proceeding.
If you don’t, you could face serious consequences.
The truth is that sometimes people don’t appear. Even with the best of intentions, life can sometimes get in the way. Mistakes, emergencies, and miscommunications can all result in accidentally missed court dates. Not to mention cases where individuals intentionally miss court appearances for a variety of reasons.
So, what exactly happens if you are summoned to court, and you don’t show up?
Though the laws vary somewhat from state to state, there are certain protocols that will be followed across the country. Let’s take a look at the consequences you’ll face as well as what can be done to mitigate those consequences.
Failure To Appear
This is the least severe charge that can be made against you when you don’t show up for a court proceeding. Failure to Appear charges vary from state to state but are generally defined as a misdemeanor or a minor crime.
Failure to Appear is often used in minor criminal cases and/or if the judge believes that your absence was the result of a sincere accident or unavoidable circumstance (examples might include an emergency health issue, natural disaster, or verifiable miscommunication of information).
If you’re charged with Failure to Appear, a warrant will be issued for your arrest. In minor cases, police may not actively seek you out but will arrest you on the spot if you are stopped and searched, even under routine circumstances.
Also, you will forfeit any bond money you may have already posted in your case and can face an increased bond amount for your additional arrest, as well as new and separate criminal charges.
If you missed court and have been charged with Failure to Appear, the best thing you can do is get in touch with a criminal defense lawyer as quickly as possible. Your lawyer can plead your defense and, depending on the circumstances, can often have the charges waived or reduced.
Contempt of Court
If you miss your court date and have been charged with a more serious crime and/or the judge believes that your absence was intentional (not the result of an accident, emergency, or miscommunication), you may be charged with Contempt of Court.
Contempt of Court is also a misdemeanor or non-felony crime in most states. However, the charges can result in fines and imprisonment if the judge rules that, when you missed your court appearance, you were attempting to directly interfere with court proceedings (for instance, speaking with a witness in your case or tampering with evidence). Such actions are defined as Criminal Contempt of Court.
If you’re charged with Contempt of Court, a warrant will be issued for your arrest, and police will be actively seeking you. Other consequences might include a jail sentence and fines, suspension of your driver’s license, bond revocation, or changes in the conditions of your release.
Once again, the best course of action to take if you are charged with Contempt of Court is to hire a criminal defense lawyer who can plead your case to the judge. It’s best to take action before you are tracked down by a process server company or the police.
If you’ve been summoned to court, the best course of action is to appear in court promptly as requested. That being said, if you know, in advance, that you have a valid conflict, have your lawyer get in touch with the judge as soon as possible.
In general, valid conflicts do not include work, lack of childcare, or other day-to-day obligations. However, judges are people too and might be empathetic if your conflict is presented clearly, professionally, and well prior to the date you are supposed to appear. Often, an alternate date can be arranged under such circumstances.
Having an outstanding charge against you–even something minor like Failure to Appear–means that future employers and others will be able to see that you have a criminal record. Even if you feel like it’s already too late, dealing with your charges as proactively as possible can often result in reduced sentencing or even getting the charges thrown out altogether.
So, don’t delay in dealing with your summons to court. Every day you wait increases your odds of a less favorable outcome.
*This article is based on personal suggestions and/or experiences and is for informational purposes only. This should not be used as professional advice. Please consult a professional where applicable.