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Failure to Appear in Court

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What Does "Failure to Appear in Court" Mean?

Many situations can occur that may require you to appear in court.  You may have to appear in court for reasons, such as:

  • Getting a traffic ticket;
  • Committing a crime;
  • Testifying as a witness in a court case; or
  • Being sued by another person or business in a civil lawsuit; or
  • Not showing up for jury duty.

When a police officer gives you a ticket or the court requires you to go a trial, you are ordered to court to court at a scheduled date and time. If you miss your court date and time, the court charges you with Failure to Appear in Court. 

What Can Happen If I Fail to Appear in Court?

Failure to appear in court is a violation of a court order or ticket citation. It is a criminal offense that may result in criminal charges. Depending on the state you live in, failure to appear may be a misdemeanor or a felony.

A misdemeanor can result in a fine or a jail sentence of less than one year in county or local jail. A felony is a crime generally punishable by serving more than one year in prison.

In addition to the charge of failure to appear in court, a judge may order various consequences, including:

  • A judge Issuing a bench warrant for your arrest;
  • Jail time;
  • Paying a fine;
  • Suspending or revoking your driver’s license;
  • Denying bail; or
  • In civil cases, dismissing your case or automatically ruling in favor of the other party in the lawsuit.

What Are the Defenses for Failure to Appear in Court?

You must have proper notice of your trial appointment. If the court determines that you had proper notice, and you intentionally did not come to court, the judge charges you with failure to appear.

To avoid facing penalties for failure to appear in court, you may present to the judge a valid reason for not showing up for your trial date and time. Examples of possible valid reasons for not coming to your appointed court date are:

  • You did not have proper notice of the court date and time;
  • You have a previously scheduled court appearance;
  • You have or had a serious illness or accident;
  • A natural disaster occurred (hurricane, tornado, earthquake, etc.); or
  • There was a death in your family.

Where and When Do I Appear in Court?

Three main legal documents you may receive that requires you to appear in court are a citation; a summons; or a subpoena.

When you receive a citation, it lists the date, time, location of your court date. Typically, citations are given by police officers during a traffic stop for violating a traffic law. You may not have to go to court if you pay the fine before the date on the traffic ticket. You may also choose to go to court on the required date for the following reasons:

  • To plead guilty;
  • To plead guilty and request a reduction of the fine; or
  • To plead not guilty and request a court trial.

If you are a defendant in a criminal case or a party in a civil lawsuit, you may receive a summons for a trial date. The summons lists the date, time and location of the court for your hearing. A summons is a legal document and you must respond it and appear in court on the as the summons states. Failure to respond or appear in court for a civil summons may result in you losing the case and the court finding in favor on the other party in the case. In a criminal case, a failure to appear in court on the listed date may result in an arrest and additional criminal charges. You may also receive a summons for jury duty. If you fail to appear for jury duty you can face jail time or huge fines.

Subpoenas are usually given to people to appear in court as witnesses in a case. A subpoena requires the witness to go to court on a certain day and time. If you do not appear in court you may face civil or criminal contempt of court charges, jail time, or large fines. 

What Are the Courtroom Rules?

When you appear in a courtroom, you must follow all courtroom rules. The rules of a court are different from state to state as well as within the courtrooms throughout a state. The general court rules include:

  • No use of cameras;
  • Cellphone on silent, vibrate or off mode, depending on the court;
  • Silence in the courtroom unless you are addressing the court/judge;
  • No weapons;
  • No eating, drinking, or chewing gum; and
  • You must be dressed appropriately, including wearing shoes and clothing.

Do I Need an Attorney?

Failing to appear in court is a serious legal violation.  If you are unsure how to respond to a citation or court required appearance, you should contact an experienced criminal attorney help you through the process. A criminal attorney has the legal knowledge and experience to assist you in the steps for appearing in court for you trial or hearing, as well as informing about the consequences of failing to appear in court. An attorney will also help you prepare your defense if you have a valid reason for not showing up for your court date.

Photo of page author Chyrra Greene

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 06-29-2017 03:22 PM PDT

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