Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Lawyers

What Happens if I Miss My Court Date?

Court can be an intimidating place.  For some people, the prospect of facing judges, juries, and prosecutors is so intimidating that they decide to skip their court date altogether.  The temptation to avoid making a scheduled appearance may feel strong right now, but hopefully you’ll change your mind before your calendar date comes up — because if you don’t, the judge will issue a bench warrant for your arrest.  If you’ve already missed a court date, what should you do next?  Our Bucks County criminal defense attorneys explain.

Failure to Appear in Court is a Crime

Sometimes people think that if they don’t appear in court, the system will eventually forget about or give up on them.  After all, judges are busy people with thousands of important matters to hear — perhaps if you don’t appear, your case will fall through the cracks over time, especially if it was a minor matter like a traffic violation. Won’t it?

Actually, not only will your case not disappear, it will become much worse than it originally was specifically because of your failure to appear.

231 Pa. Code Rule 1910.13-1 states, “If a party fails to appear at a conference and/or hearing as directed by order of court, the court may issue a bench warrant for the arrest of the party.”  Failure to appear in court is also a crime under federal law pursuant to 18 U.S. Code § 3146.

What is a Bench Warrant?

A bench warrant is a warrant for your arrest, so named because it is issued by the judge from the “bench.”  It’s important to point out that not only can bench warrants can be issued for failure to appear for a hearing, but also for failure to attend a probation interview, as well as for a probation violation.

So are bench warrants any different from normal arrest warrants?  What happens if a bench warrant for your arrest is issued in Pennsylvania?

First and foremost, all police officers in the state have access to your warrant, which means any routine traffic stop could rapidly turn into an arrest.  If you are arrested, you can be held in custody for as long as three days (72 hours) before you have access to a hearing.

Once your hearing takes place, the bench warrant will be lifted — but now the judge will have to decide if you should be released, or detained in jail.  Depending on the circumstances, you may have to post bail money to be released.

Ironically, it is possible that the original charges against you would have been dismissed — but now that you’ve missed your court date in our hypothetical situation, you will have to deal with an entirely new and distinct set of charges related to failure to appear.

But what if the situation isn’t hypothetical?

pennsylvania trial lawyers

What to Do You Have a Bench Warrant in Pennsylvania

If you are aware that there is an outstanding bench warrant against you, you should contact a criminal defense lawyer immediately.  Your attorney will advise you on the best and most appropriate course of action.  Generally speaking, however, it is not beneficial to hide from the courts in an attempt attempt to “wait out” the arrest.  In the judge’s eyes, this will probably not reflect well on your character or your intentions.

If you missed your court date for a legitimate reason, such as a last-minute medical emergency, try to obtain any documents which can back up your reasoning.  For example, a form from your doctor could prove that you were receiving medical care at the time of your scheduled hearing.

If the threat of being arrested on a bench warrant alone isn’t convincing enough, you should also consider the other drawbacks and repercussions:

  • Financially speaking, you forfeit your bond.
  • If you are charged with a crime in the future, your history of failure to appear before judges won’t exactly help to mitigate your new charges.
  • Unless you have the guidance of an experienced attorney, you could say something at your bench warrant hearing which exacerbates your original, underlying charges.
  • In addition to being jailed, you can also be fined, and your driver’s license can be suspended.

Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Lawyers Offering Free Consultations

The bottom line is that you have every reason to attend all of your scheduled court dates, and no reason at all to deliberately miss them.  Even if you think your matter seems relatively minor, it is still important to respect the court system by making the effort to appear when you are expected to.

If you have been charged with a crime in Pennsylvania, or if a warrant is out for your arrest, don’t wait another day.  Call the law offices of Young, Marr, Mallis & Associates at (609) 755-3115 in New Jersey or (215) 701-6519 in Pennsylvania right away to set up a free and confidential legal consultation.