Failure to appear for a court date

Yes I know you’re not my lawyer, and this isn’t a thread asking for legal advice.

How dumb of an idea is it to skip court for a criminal charge? Person X got arrested for dui and skipped the court appearance. I thought this was stupid because I figure the first court appearance is nothing more than being read the charges and entering a plea.

What happens to people who just ignore their court date for a criminal charge? I’d imagine a warrant for their arrest is issued, but does the judge add extra punishment to the sentence if the person is convicted? Does the length of time the person skips court have any effect?


It’s my understanding that your first court appearance after arrest is arraignment when it’s decided whether the initial charges should stick. If not, case dismissed and you are free to go. If otherwise, a decision is made to keep you in jail (remand) or set you free on bail. If granted bail and you do not show for your court appearance that you now state, you are really in deep shit - bail is revoked, a warrant is issued and you have a new charge attached to your name.

I’m guessing the judge could tack on extra punishment for skipping bail.

What I’d like to know is…how did your friend get arrested for D.U.I. and NOT make it to his first day in court? Usually, when one is ‘taken down’ for this crime, the cop first takes you into custody, because any type of public drunkenness is illegal. Often, you are kept until Monday(most are arrested over the weekend) and sent directly to the courthouse jail first thing Monday morn.

How’d your friend avoid all that? :dubious:

In my venue, a warrant is issued within 45 minute of failure to appear. That’s a warrant for the person’s arrest and the FTA is a new charge.

Isn’t the forfeit of the bail money put up by the defendant ordinarily considered punishment enough? Or is it the norm to attach a jail term to FTA in addition to forfeiting bail money?

Pretty high on the dumbness scale. It makes no sense to piss off someone who has the power to put you in jail. And you can bet that the judge would be pissed off.

Even if he couldn’t tack on extra penalties (and I have no doubt he could), the judge would not look to be very lenient when it comes to sentencing.

Well, the problem with that reasoning is that the defendant isn’t required to post bail himself. It might be his employer, his mother, a friend, or someone else for whom the loss does not “punish” the defendant at all. At any rate, if you are bailed or ROR’ed (released on own recognizance) it is conditioned on your appearance at a later date. The failure to appear may be an independent crime. In New York the crime is defined under NY Penal Code 215.55, “Bail Jumping in the 3rd Degree,” a class A misdemeanor when you jump bail on a misdemeanor. If you jump bail on a felony, that is the 2nd Degree, which is a Class E felony itself. (Noting that, in New York, you have 30 days to appear voluntarily and avoid the criminal charge, and there are defenses if the failure to appear was truly beyond your control. Jurisdictions may vary on this.)

However, regardless of whether you are criminally charged for bail jumping, there’s another reason why skipping out is stupid: if you are ever arrested in the future, bail will be set high or not at all, because now you are down as a flight risk.

What happens? Don’t you ever watch “Dog the Bounty Hunter”?

It’s an extremely dumb idea. A good friend learned this the hard way over the summer.
12 years ago he was involved in a car accident with a company car and charged with wreckless driving and a couple other things. On the court date, he was young, stupid and terrified of the outcome so he panicked and didn’t go.
So he spent 12 years keeping a low profile, working for shady employers, not filing taxes, etc… then his luck ran out and he was stopped one day coming home from the cottage on a Sunday night.
The police weren’t impressed and neither was the judge who wouldn’t even see his case for 3 days before refusing to release him. Even his original lawyer was pissed.
It took another lawyer, a sponsor, and agreeing to a year of reporting to the police station every Saturday, to get the judge to reconsider his release.
At trial, things were not going well so he entered into a plea bargaining agreement hoping to minimize his sentence, serve probation and/or perform community service and avoid jail time. Nope, the prosecutor and judge made it clear that they would not excuse his FTA and must display a deterrent to individuals who choose to ignore and hinder the judicial system and sentenced him to 60 + 30 days concurrent.

I suppose the morale is that you can stick your head in the sand but you leave your ass in the wind for when they do find you.:smiley:

The main problem for a relatively “minor” charge like DUI, is that when they do catch you, (and they will) you will spend the time waiting for trial (60 to 120 days) in custody rather than at large. Judge’s are reluctant to let you out again on a low bail after you failed to appear, absent a pretty good excuse. So, for a case that might carry 1 to 3 days in jail if your convicted, you might spend three months waiting for a trial. Faced with that dilemma, many people plead guilty as soon as they can to get released.

There are other negatives. You might forfeit your original bail. You might bet caught a year or two down the road and have to deal with an old problem at a more inconvenient time. Delay in getting to to trial might make it much harder for your lawyer to find witnesses who could help you (the guy next to you at the bar who can swear you only had 1 beer…).

However, I’ve seen cases where a single FTA didn’t make any difference at all. If you’re a middle or upper class white person, with no criminal history, the first FTA on a misdemeanor doesn’t usually hurt that bad. A stern warning from the judge and you’re back on the street.

You’d think that’s the one thing they wouldn’t charge him with.

I can tell you what happens in my court, at least. Ordinarily, when someone is arrested, they will quickly post a bond with a bondsman. They pay a bond fee, usually 10% of the bail amount, to the bondsman, who in return signs a paper saying they’re responsible for making sure the person makes his court appearances. The person won’t see that bond fee again; that’s the bondsman’s cost of doing business.

So, let’s say the person decides to skip court. When the person’s name is called and no one answers, the judge orders a bond forfeiture, issues a warrant, and sets a new, cash bond for when the person is rearrested. So, let’s say the original bail amount was $1000, and the person paid the bondsman $100 to get out of jail. The new bond will probably be $2000 in cash (no hiring a bondsman this time), meaning that if the person can’t come up with that amount, he’ll just have to sit in jail until his case is resolved. Probably not the outcome he was hoping for.

In my Ohio big-city muni court, failing to appear - a very bad idea indeed - means the magistrate signs a capias or bench warrant for your arrest. If it’s a high-level misdemeanor like theft, driving under suspension or no driver license, a bond may be set; otherwise you have a personal bond and will be released again right after you’re arraigned (advised of the charge(s) and your rights in court). You will not have an additional charge brought against you for failing to appear.

The police won’t be actively looking for you after you’re “caped,” but if you’re stopped for anything and your identity is confirmed, you’re taken into custody on the spot and held until you can be brought before the court, which might be overnight but might be several days to a week, depending on where you are when caught.

If you have a habit of not appearing for court when summonsed, the court will definitely bear that in mind when setting bond in the future, even years in the future. And some judges and magistrates will double any bond that was earlier set if you FTA.

So show up to court when you’re asked or told to.

In my jurisdiction, the judge issues a capias and a show cause order. As Elendil’s Heir says, the capias is essentially an arrest warrant. Unless there are other reasons for the police to be interested in you, it’s very unlikely that they will try to track you down, but any time they run your name, the capias will pop up and you’ll be in custody.