Don't think of a court date as an invitation for you to stop by. Think of it as an order, since you will suffer unpleasant consequences if you don't show up. Life happens all around you, and emergencies seem to arise just when you commit yourself to something like a court hearing. If that is your situation, be sure you can document your emergency to show the court your failure to appear was not a "willing" one.
If you miss a court date, you had better be able to show the judge that the failure to appear was not intentional or avoidable, with evidence like an intake form from the emergency room or a police report about a serious automobile accident.
A Court Date Shouldn't Be Taken Lightly
You will be given a court date if you are charged with a crime or issued a traffic ticket. For a criminal matter, you are likely to have several court dates, including for arraignment, pre-trial hearing, trial and sentencing. What happens if you don't show up? Only bad things.
State laws vary, but in some the court can charge you with other crimes if you fail to show up – such as misdemeanors like failure to appear or contempt of court. A judge can also issue a bench warrant for your arrest when you don't show up. This means that whenever a police officer stops you, even if only because your brake light is out, you can be taken to jail and kept there until a hearing occurs on your failure to appear charge.
Valid Excuses for Missing a Court Date
Don't ever play fast and loose with a court date. There are really only two circumstances that will convince the court that your failure to appear should not be punished. You'll have to prove either that you did not get notice of the court date or that circumstances beyond your control prevented you from attending.
You have a valid court date only if you or your attorney was served notice of the hearing. If you don't have an attorney, the court will mail notice to the address you provided. It is your duty to advise the court if your address changes. If you didn't, the court won't excuse your failure to appear.
Circumstances beyond your control can be anything that fits into that description, from a kidnapping to a heart attack. If at all possible, call the court before the hearing to explain the circumstance and announce that you won't be there and why.
But if an emergency comes up at the last moment and prevents your appearance at court, you will need to document it. Medical emergencies should be documented by medical records, emergency room admission slips, ambulance records or a doctor's statement. If your emergency is an automobile accident, get a police report, photos and an insurance statement.