If you've ever been stood up on a date, you know how annoying it can be. The court isn't any more pleased than you would be, and it has a lot more power to get even. The long and short of it is, move heaven and earth to get to court when you are supposed to be there. And if an emergency prevents you, inform your attorney and the court as quickly as possible.
Missing a Criminal Court Hearing
If you are charged with a crime, you will have to show up in court multiple times, including for arraignment, entry of plea, pre-trial conference and trial. Missing any of these hearings is a very bad idea, and you should bend over backwards to appear. If fate trips you up and your car breaks down or you have a medical emergency, notify your attorney and the court as soon as you can. This is especially important if you are charged with a felony offense. If you don't have an attorney, within a few days report to the clerk of court's office to clear up the warrant. Bring any documents that might explain your absence.
If you simply forget your hearing or decide to do something else instead, you are playing with fire. The judge almost certainly will issue a bench warrant for you, even if your attorney is present. That doesn't mean that cops will batter down your door, but when your path crosses that of law enforcement, you will be arrested and held in jail until you appear before the court.
Take into account that failure to appear in court can also add "failure to appear" to the charges against you. You may be ordered to pay a higher bond or forfeit bond you already posted to get out of jail. Or the judge can revoke ability to post bond and you could be forced to stay in jail until your case is heard. In many states, if you fail to appear in the court, the court notifies the DMV, and your driver’s license is suspended. That means that if you are pulled over by a police officer, you can be charged with driving on a suspended driver’s license.
Missing a Traffic Ticket Hearing
Missing a traffic ticket hearing will also result in a bench warrant. This is especially the case if the ticket is a moving violation or a serious charge like driving without a license. Missing a hearing on a parking ticket appeal will probably only result in having the appeal dismissed.
Missing a Family Law Matter
In family law court, you are not being prosecuted for a crime. You are arguing with your spouse over divorce matters like child custody and support. Missing a court date in family court means that you lose the right to present your side of the argument scheduled for the hearing you missed. The judge will hear only one side and will rely only on evidence from the other side.
In a child support matter, it is very important to appear at each hearing. If you miss a court date, the court can issue a default judgment against you ordering child support. The order will likely be based on information the custodial parent gives to the court and you won't be there to point out where it goes wrong.
In addition, in some states like California, failing to appear in family court can lead to a contempt of court action. This can bring harsh penalties.
Only bad things happen if you don't show up in court when you are supposed to be there. If it's a criminal matter, a bench warrant will likely be issued for your arrest.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.