There are many reasons why people miss their court date. Sometimes, people do not take their case as seriously as they should or are afraid of what may happen, and just don’t show up. Other times, it simply slips their mind. Criminal cases don’t exist in a vacuum—our clients have jobs, families, and numerous other obligations. As a result, it’s not uncommon for individuals to miss their court date.
When a defendant in a criminal case misses their court date, it is always noted by the court. There are a few things that can happen. The first is that the court simply schedules another court date. This only happens in a few situations. For example when the client communicates to their attorney beforehand that they will not be able to attend the hearing, the attorney can then go to the hearing and make representations to the judge and prosecutor about where the person is. This typically happens when the client is somewhere such as in the hospital, in a rehabilitation facility, or has been arrested in another matter and is being held elsewhere. The prosecutor will usually reserve bench warrant rights, a bench warrant is not issued. The court will set another date for the defendant to appear.
The second possibility is that the client has no justification for not attending their hearing, or has not communicated the reason for their absence to their attorney. The judge might ask pretrial services if they have been in contact with the defendant. In this case, the prosecutor will ask that a bench warrant be issued. A judge might hold off on the bench warrant to give the defendant time to get to court, for example if the case is set for 9:30, the judge might wait until 10:30 to issue the bench warrant.
Another issue to keep in mind is that if a defendant in a criminal case fails to appear for a court date, he or she could be charged with another crime—a Bail Reform Act violation. When signing the notice to appear at the next court date, the courtroom clerk informs each defendant that they could be subject to a financial or incarceration penalty for failure to appear. If a defendant fails to appear and is later picked up by the police on the bench warrant that is issued, they could be detained and then charged with this violation.
The key takeaway is that a defendant in a criminal case must keep their attorney aware of their circumstances and any changes in their situation. If a defendant is going to be late or miss their hearing, their attorney needs to know as far in advance as possible so as to avoid a bench warrant being issued for the client.