A person might find themselves summoned to appear in court for many reasons. In addition to people charged with offenses, there are defendants, witnesses, and jurors. Regardless of whether you are accused of a crime, your presence in court is mandatory; according to section 19.2-128 of Virginia law, failing to appear is an offense. Because failure to appear (FTA) is a criminal offense unrelated to any other charges, even if the court drops other charges, you will still face consequences for the FTA. Depending on the circumstances, you may find yourself in a very precarious situation.
What Happens Immediately After Failing to Appear?
In many cases, a judge may issue a bench warrant for your arrest. Police generally don’t actively pursue bench warrants; however, that doesn’t mean they won’t eventually find you. All police officers can see whether there is an outstanding warrant for an individual. This means that any police you encounter going forward can verify that there is a bench warrant in your name, and they are under orders to arrest you and bring you in. After your arrest, you’ll likely have to stay in jail until a judge can see you.
In addition to issuing a bench warrant, a judge can also suspend your driver’s license, and you’ll be the one responsible for paying to reinstate it later. After all, the court considers a person’s failure to appear to be willful. Unless there are extenuating circumstances that your attorney deems relevant to your failure to appear in court, you may face challenges proving that you are not a flight risk and will not repeat the incident in the future.
Types of FTA Charges
In some cases, the judge will issue a contempt citation instead of legally charging you with FTA, though such citations still involve fees and minor amounts of jail time. If the judge chooses to continue with an FTA charge, there are two types. The specific charge you end up with varies depending on the nature of your required appearance in court. For individuals who were originally not charged with an offense, failing to show up is a misdemeanor. The same applies to those already facing a misdemeanor charge. However, for people facing a felony charge, being absent from court is a felony charge.
There is more to missing your court date than being hauled back in to speak with a judge. In Virginia, you may face serious legal consequences that could continue to impact you for the rest of your life.
Penalties for FTA Charges
While the specifics will depend on the charge you’re facing; there are severe penalties involved in FTA cases, often involving some combination of fines and jail time. If the FTA is a misdemeanor, fines may be as high as $1,000, with possible jail time of up to one year. One year may not initially sound so severe; however, it can be highly disruptive to every aspect of your life, including family, friends, your home, and your career. Even after you are no longer in jail, FTA charges will continue to show up on background checks, so every future employer will be able to see your criminal history.
In instances where the FTA is a felony, the consequences are even more severe. Fines can go as high as $2,500, and potential jail time increases to up to five years. A felony conviction can have a huge impact on your job prospects later in life, making it much more difficult to find a fulfilling career that allows you to support yourself and your family.
Circumstances That May Excuse an FTA
FTAs are extremely serious situations, and individuals should always strive to appear in court at the mandated date and time to avoid incurring hefty penalties. However, in some situations, a person may be legitimately unable to make an appearance. If you can prove to the judge that these circumstances apply in your situation, you may be able to get the charges withdrawn. Valid reasons to miss a court summons include:
1. The notice was never received. If you were never notified of your court date, it would be impossible for you to know when you were supposed to appear. Keep in mind that for this to be applicable, the individual would need to be completely blameless. That means that if you forgot to update your address after moving or provided an invalid address, you are still responsible for failing to show up in court.
2. An emergency prevented you from making your court date. Accidents happen. Emergencies happen. If you suffered a heart attack, were hit by a car, or experienced any other serious injury and were physically unable to appear in court due to being hospitalized, that would be considered a valid reason.
What Can You Do to Prevent Being Charged With an FTA?
The easiest way to prevent being charged is to make sure you make your court appearance on time. Even if you received a summons to deal with a simple parking ticket or are not the accused, you are still legally required by the state of Virginia to be present in court at the scheduled time and date. Unfortunately, there are incidents where the individual fails to show up due to a misunderstanding or mistake, which might not necessarily fall under the list of justifiable reasons. If you realize you’ve already missed your court date or become aware that there is a bench warrant out in your name, working with a Virginia failure-to-appear lawyer is critical to helping you keep a bad situation from spiraling out of control. Contact Williams Stone Carpenter Buczek, PC to start reviewing the details of your case today.