What Happens if I Miss My Court Date?
No one relishes the thought of going to court. No one wants to be questioned about their personal lives, to have to explain their actions to a room of strangers, or to face the prospect of being handed a life-changing sentence. Sometimes, criminal defendants dread the prospect of appearing in court so much that they simply don’t do it. After all, judges are busy people — maybe if you miss your court date, your case will simply slip through the administrative cracks. Right? Completely wrong. Your case will not be forgotten, and by failing to appear, you are only making your situation dramatically worse. Why should you never miss a court date, and perhaps more importantly, what can happen if you do?
Types of Court Appearances
When people use the phrase “going to court,” there are actually many different events they could be referring to, depending on the context of a case. Before talking about why making your court appearance is important, it’s helpful to have a basic understanding of some of the different types of court dates in criminal cases, and what happens at each.
- Arraignment. This is the first stage of the process. At your arraignment, you will be informed of the charges against you, and will have the opportunity to enter a plea of guilty, or not guilty. This is generally the stage at which bail is set.
- Preliminary Hearing. The purpose of preliminary hearings, which are held in all cases involving felony allegations, is for the judge to determine whether or not there is enough evidence against you for the charges to go forward. Your bail may be changed during this stage.
- Trial. For most people, when they hear the word “court,” what they are really picturing is trial. Trials themselves are often relatively brief, though the period after arraignment can last for years. During trial, the defense and prosecution try to counter each other’s points. Jury deliberation begins after closing arguments are heard. When deliberation concludes, you will be found either guilty or not guilty. (In rare cases, a “hung jury” will reach an impassable deadlock, at which point a mistrial will be declared and the case may be retried.)
- Sentencing. Even if you are found guilty, trial is not when you are sentenced. That is the purpose of your sentencing date, at which the judge will impose probation or time in jail or prison.
It should be noted that this is only a basic overview of the major segments of a criminal case, and does not include additional stages such as the filing of the complaint, the pre-trial conference, or any appellate court procedures following a conviction.
Why You Should Never Miss a Court Date
Skipping out on a scheduled court date is never a productive solution to legal problems. Even if you feel like you’ve lowered your stress levels by staying home or going to the beach, in reality, you’ve just made your issue far worse than it originally was.
To begin with, it’s very important to appreciate just how rigid court schedules truly are. Medical appointments can be rescheduled with a quick phone call, but court dates cannot, as U.S. District Courts are flooded with tens of thousands of cases and defendants each year. If you have an extremely serious reason you cannot appear at the original time, you must request an adjournment.
If you do not request an adjournment, yet you still fail to appear, you are committing a crime independent of the crime you were initially charged with. As with any other crime, failure to appear (technically known as “bail jumping”) can result in its own set of penalties, including jail time and costly fines. Bail jumping in the third degree is a misdemeanor, while bail jumping in the second and first degree is a felony offense, respectively Class E and Class D. If you do not appear at your scheduled court date, the judge can issue a bench warrant for your arrest.
Once again, these consequences all come in addition to your original charges — which you will still have to face eventually.
If you or someone you love has missed a court date in or near Queens, it is extremely important that you speak to an experienced Queens criminal defense attorney as soon as you can. To schedule a confidential legal consultation, call the law offices of Victor Knapp, Esq., at (718) 263-9000, or contact us online today.