Face the music today, or face something worse tomorrow—why you need to make your Court dates.
Question: “ I have a court date coming up. What if I just decide not to show up?”
Answer: “Bad idea. Really bad idea—unless you have a nice cabin deep in the woods.”
Regardless of the severity of the charges you face, from a parking ticket to a homicide case, the system has a response to anyone failing to show for court. In a nutshell, the more serious the initial charges, the harder the system will work to get you back, and the higher price you’ll pay for missing court. Let’s start with the light ones, and work up.
If you are charged with a simple traffic offense; say, speeding, you were likely issued a summons to appear at a certain time to address the charge. If you miss the date, the points will issue against your license by default, and you will still owe the fine and court costs. A warrant could issue by the court, so the next time you are contacted by law enforcement for any reason (maybe another ticket), you could be arrested on the spot, and be required to post a cash bond equal to the amount owed on the ticket to satisfy the debt you owed the court. Not worth it, was it?
In a misdemeanor case, generally a summons is issued. Once again, if you miss court, a warrant would likely issue, but this time an appearance bond would be set. You would then need to post the bond, either paying the full amount in cash, or through a surety, i.e. , a bail bondsman. The bail bondsman is paid a non-refundable fee by you, ranging from 10 to 20 percent of the face of the bond, in exchange for promising the Court that you will appear. If you miss court again, the bondsman has to pay the Court the full amount of the bond, but two things happen to you.
First, the court will issue a new warrant, likely with a higher bond amount. Law enforcement is now authorized to arrest you at any time. Secondly, since the bondman is on the hook to pay the Court, he’ll come looking for you. If he produces you – by having you arrested – in a reasonable period of time, he is relieved of his obligation to pay the Court. Remember, the original charges against you remain in place, and you may get to sit in jail for weeks until your case gets resolved. Even when it is resolved, your court record will show a failure to appear, which will result in higher bonds being set for any cases you might have in the future.
In a felony case, the stakes are higher. Higher bonds are initially set; it is rare to have a summons issue at all. The higher the level of felony (**refer to other article), the higher the bond. Once again, if you miss court, you’ll have law enforcement looking for you, as well as the bondsman. For felonies, law enforcement will take a far more active role in finding you, sending officers to your home or work until you are found. To compound your troubles, you can be charged with a new felony simply for missing court. It is called Violation of Bail Bond Conditions, and it carries mandatory time, even if you might have a good defense to the original charge. Actually, you can be charged with a similar statute for failing to appear for a misdemeanor court date; although it is less likely to be invoked, it does carry jail penalties as well.
If the felony is serious enough, an interstate warrant will issue. So, if you miss court in Colorado, and are contacted by the police in Pennsylvania, you will be arrested there, and extradited (sent back via the legal process) to Colorado to face the charges. You will likely remain in custody for the long ride back here. My clients inform me it’s not the best way to see the country.
If it is serious enough, an international warrant could issue. If so, you could be picked up in a foreign country, held there for some period of time, and handed over to federal authorities to face the charges here. All the while, you could be ordered to pay the costs associated with your extradition, as well as everything else. Each country has differing treaties with the U.S. that cover offenses that are extraditable; almost any country will return you for a murder charge, few would bother with sending you back for a DUI. However, once you overstay your welcome where you are staying, you’ll have to get on a plane back to the U.S. The authorities will be waiting for you upon your return. Worth it yet?
Then, just for icing on the cake, the DA can rightfully make an issue of your failing to come to court in support of a harsher sentence. However, some clarity is warranted. If you just spaced the court date, wrote it down wrong, have the flu, or your battery died, all is not lost. If any of these apply, it is imperative that you contact your attorney at once, so that you can be distinguished from those who miss their court dates deliberately. Don’t put it off. An experienced practitioner can assist you in overcoming these obstacles to a point, but the primary responsibility still rests with you. You can run, but you can’t hide forever.
by Staff Attorney
The Gasper Law Group, PLLC