A party who wants to write a letter to the court for missing a court date should first consult an attorney. It is typically better to schedule a new date and appear in court than expect to be forgiven based on a letter. It is important that the party show he can be present in court on time and demonstrates to the judge that he wants the matter resolved.
What a Letter Should Contain
If the party’s attorney advises her to write a letter to the judge, she should allow the attorney to write the letter and then approve the contents. Alternatively, the party can write the letter and have her attorney approve it. There is not a standard way to write a sample letter to a judge for missing a court date.
If the party chooses to write a letter, she should make it personal. If the letter is too generic, the judge will be aware that the party copied a letter that is widely available on the internet. A letter should be brief and clear, and contain an apology and an explanation as to why the party missed court. When appropriate, the party should enclose supporting documentation such as a doctor’s note or a police report with the letter.
The letter should request a new court date on a day and time that the party can come to court. The letter should also contain the full name and contact information of the party.
Read More: How to Write a Settlement Demand Letter
Danger of Too Much Information
It is important that a party write the letter in a way that does not invite questions. In particular, the party should not go into detail about his personal life. If the party does this, the judge may have new questions for him.
The party also should not go into the details of the case. The goal of an apology letter to the judge for missing court is to address the party’s absence. It's best to avoid details that would invite challenges from the opposing side.
Requests for Leniency
Usually a letter to the judge for leniency will be unsuccessful. The court wants to see what the party has accomplished to better himself since the case began. The best way for a party to answer these questions is in person, in court and with the assistance of an attorney.
Penalties for Failure to Appear
A party who does not appear in court on his scheduled court date can be charged with a new offense called failure to appear, or FTA. The penalty for FTA is a period of incarceration and a fine. A party who ignores a traffic ticket by not paying the ticket and not coming to court may also have his driver’s license suspended.
Dealing With an Arrest Warrant
When a party does not show up for a criminal court proceeding, the judge may issue a warrant for her arrest. There are several ways to handle this. Options include scheduling a hearing to address the warrant and turning herself in to a booking area of the jail rather than being arrested by a law enforcement officer. A party can also appear at arraignment before a judge, rather than being taken into custody on the warrant.
A party can also file a motion to quash a warrant. If the motion is successful, the judge will dismiss the warrant and schedule a new court date. The motion should contain a legitimate reason as to why the party missed court.
What Is a Capias Warrant?
A court may issue a capias warrant, or civil capias warrant, for the arrest of a defendant in a civil case. The court typically issues such a warrant when a party has repeatedly failed to comply with the orders of the court, such as failing to pay what he owes. A capias warrant authorizes a law enforcement officer to physically arrest the defendant and bring him to court.
Language for Changing a Court Date
A request for a later court date is often called a continuance or a postponement. In a criminal case, if a party requests a continuance, she may be required to waive her 6th Amendment right to a speedy trial. In a civil case, a party requesting a continuance must first ask if the other side agrees, or stipulates, to a continuance.
If the other side does not agree, the judge will decide whether to grant a continuance at a separate hearing. This hearing is called a continuance hearing. It is the party’s responsibility to notify the other side of the date and time of the continuance hearing. If the other side agrees to a continuance, the judge will often sign an order granting the continuance without a continuance hearing.
In some courts, for certain cases, a party is allowed one request to continue without judicial review. For example, in King County, Washington, a party can make such a request in a mitigation hearing for traffic or other civil infraction. A party should appear at court or call the court to ask about rescheduling his case.
Working With Electronic Filings
In certain states, such as Oregon, an attorney must file a motion to continue through the court’s electronic filing program. A self-represented party may file a motion to continue through the program or by paper document. A motion to continue usually must be filed a certain amount of time before the hearing, such as 72 hours in advance.
If the party does not submit the motion as required before the hearing, the judge may not rule on the motion before the hearing. She will refer the motion to the trial judge. If this occurs, the party should appear on the date and time of the hearing or trial ready to proceed.
Dealing With a Default Judgment
If a party in a civil case was sued and did not go to his trial, the court may enter a judgment against him based just on the information the plaintiff provided. If the party wants a new trial, he must ask the judge to vacate, or cancel, the judgment against him. He must provide a good reason for not going to the trial, such as that he was not properly served.
Limits on Continuances
A court will not always be likely to grant a continuance. A party should consult an attorney as to what constitutes good cause for a continuance. The court may also provide information on its website about what it considers good cause for a continuance.
For example, the Arizona Superior Court in Pima County does not consider failure to complete the discovery process or ongoing settlement negotiations to be sufficient cause. The Pulaski General District Court in Virginia views good cause as existing when the need for a continuance is unforeseen, is not due to a lack of preparation, is brought to the court’s attention in a timely manner and does not unduly prejudice the opposing party.
A party may also be required to request a new court date that is relatively close to the missed court date. The Pulaski General District Court provides that a party shall not request a continuance in excess of 60 days. A party should consult an attorney about such local rules.
- California Courts: Change Your Court Date
- 2019 California Rules of Court: Rule 3.1332. Motion or application for continuance of trial
- Virginia's Judicial System, Pulaski Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court: Continuance Policy
- Tennessee Courts: Rule 8: Extensions of Time, Continuances and Waivers of Oral Argument
- Cocino County Law Library, Arizona: Moving a Court Date to a Later Date
- Arizona Superior Court in Pima County: Trial Continuance Policy
- Oregon Judicial Branch: Court Calendars
- King County District Court, Washington: Reschedule
- California Courts: Vacate a Default Judgment
- California Courts: If You Ignore Your Ticket
- Essex County, Massachusetts, Sheriff's Department Headquarters: Capias Services
- Always ask your lawyer or the court how to proceed before you write a letter. In criminal or traffic cases, if you miss your court date the judge will probably issue a warrant for your arrest and you may be asked to take additional steps, such as to turn yourself in and ask for bail before you can ask for a continuance.
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.