If you've been charged with a crime, it should go without saying that showing up for your court appearances is important.
Even if the crime you are accused of committing is something as minor as a traffic offense, if you agree to appear in court and fail to show up, you may find yourself facing additional penalties. In cases where the charges are more serious, the consequences for failing to appear will likely be even more severe.
What can happen when a criminal defendant fails to appears in court? Here are a few of the potential consequences:
Bench Warrant May Be Issued
If you fail to appear in court, a judge may choose to issue a bench warrant for your arrest. This warrant will allow law enforcement to take you into custody at any time. In some circumstances, law enforcement may actively seek to execute the warrant at your home or business.
Bail May Be Imposed and/or Forfeited
If you were released following your arrest on your own recognizance in lieu of having to post bail or secure a bond, failure to appear will likely lead to the imposition of bail in your case in addition to any other penalties.
If you were initially obligated to post bail, then failing to appear may lead to the forfeiture of your bail. If you secured a loan through a bail bond company, the bond company will likely seize your collateral -- often a car or a house -- or may even send a bounty hunter to track you down in order to get its money back.
Additionally, the amount of bail in any subsequent criminal proceeding may be increased significantly in light of a prior failure to appear.
Additional Charges May Be Brought
Failing to appear for your court date may also be a crime unto itself.
For example, in California, failure to appear within 14 days of the date assigned for a court appearance can be a misdemeanor (for failing to appear on a misdemeanor charge) or even a felony (for failing to appear on a felony charge). For felonies in which the defendant was free on his own recognizance, failure to appear can be punished by up to a $5,000 and up to three years in a county jail. For felonies in which the defendant was released on bail, the penalty is a fine of up to $10,000 and three years in county jail.
Failure to appear may also be considered contempt of court which, similar to a criminal conviction, can result in both fines and jail time.
If you won't be able to make it to a scheduled court appearance, let your criminal defense lawyer know right away, so he or she can make the proper arrangements. To learn more about what happens in a criminal case, check out FindLaw's section on Criminal Procedure.