Judges take their dockets very seriously. So when you’re on a judge’s calendar—whether you’re appearing in General Sessions court, magistrate’s court, municipal court, or before a grand jury—you must also take the judge’s docket seriously.
“Failure to Appear” basically means that you don’t show up in court when you are supposed to, and it isn’t a little problem. It can land you in jail!
In this article you will learn:
- What is failure to appear in South Carolina;
- The happens if you miss a court date;
- What contempt of court is in South Carolina; and
- The penalties for a contempt of court conviction.
Failure to Appear: What does it mean?
Court hearing dates are scheduled according to the court’s calendar and generally done so weeks to months in advance. Similar to jury duty, no one gets to decide when his or her court date will be. As a defendant, you will, however, be given ample notice from your attorney detailing when the hearing is scheduled to take place. It’s important that you appear for court.
“Failure to appear,” which occurs when you have a scheduled court date but do not show up for it, is a serious infraction. Depending on what court you are in and what you are charged with, you may be held in jail until your attorney can get you released or you may be found guilty in your absence. Failure to appear is not itself a crime, so it isn’t a felony or misdemeanor. The real trouble comes if the judge finds you in “contempt of court” by failing to appear. Contempt of court is a crime that does show up on a background check and can seriously affect your life.
You can avoid a bench warrant for failure to appear by:
- Retaining a criminal defense lawyer early in your case.
- Staying in touch with your attorney.
- Showing up for every court date unless your attorney tells you that you have been excused.
If you miss a court date for any reason, contact your attorney immediately. They are your lifeline and sometimes the only person who can keep you out of jail.
You Missed Your Court Date… Now What?
Missing your court date can have unpleasant consequences. First, the judge can issue a bench warrant for your arrest. Sometimes the solicitor (the state’s attorney) makes this request of the judge, and other times the judge will issue the warrant directly.
Once the bench warrant is issued, the police are notified. If law enforcement catches you, you will then be held in jail unless and until your attorney can get the Court to release you. Unless you’re charged with a very serious crime (i.e. a felony), the local police or sheriff’s office personnel are probably not going to hunt you down and haul you off to jail.
The most likely scenario is this: You get pulled over for a traffic violation, and the police officer discovers the bench warrant when he or she runs your driver’s license. At this point, the officer can arrest you. And now you’re in a heck of a lot more trouble than a speeding ticket.
What Should You Do if You Missed Your Court Date?
First of all, contact your attorney immediately. You may have a bench warrant for your arrest, or you may have been found guilty and sentenced in your absence. Do not contact the clerk of court or prosecutor until you have spoken to your attorney. Your attorney may be able to get the bench warrant lifted or file a motion to reopen your case. If you talk to police or a prosecutor and there is an active bench warrant, you can expect to go to jail until the issue is resolved. On the other hand, your attorney may be able to resolve the issue with the prosecutor. If not, your attorney can file a motion and ask the Court to lift the bench warrant before it is served on you.
Something caused you to miss your court date:
If you experienced an event outside of your control, such as a motor vehicle accident, having a sick child or similar, the Court may understand. If you forgot or chose not to come, court officials will be much less forgiving, but you will still need to resolve the issue.
You didn’t receive proper notice to appear:
If you didn’t receive a notice to appear for your court date, but you find out about it before it happens, by all means, go. If you didn’t receive notice and find out about your hearing after it was supposed to take place, call your attorney immediately to find out what happened. It isn’t your fault if a notice got lost in the mail.
You’re running late to your court date:
If you’re running late to your court appearance, get there late. Do not assume you’ve missed your hearing. Also, call your attorney while you are on your way to let them know you are coming but will be late. You may have to wait until all other hearings are held, but showing up late is better than not showing up at all. You’ve still technically failed to appear, but showing up late displays a good faith effort on your part.
You have a conflict before your court date:
If you have a conflict come up that will cause you to miss your court date, call your attorney ahead of time. You might be able to get your hearing rescheduled if your reason is legitimate, such as a summons for jury service or a family member’s scheduled surgery. If you can’t get the hearing rescheduled, you must show up.
Common Questions About Failure to Appear in Court
If you’ve already missed your court date, you’re probably wondering just what to do next. Here are common questions our clients ask us when they fail to make their court hearings.
1. What does failure to appear mean?
As mentioned above, failure to appear means you did not show up for your scheduled court date. This is a failure to comply with a judge’s order for you to attend a hearing regarding your case.
2. If I don’t show up in court, will there be a warrant for my arrest?
If you were scheduled to appear in General Sessions Court and failed to appear, it is likely that a judge will issue a bench warrant for your arrest. If you were scheduled to appear in magistrate or municipal courts, you could be found guilty in your absence of whatever crime or infraction you were supposed to be there for and sentenced to jail time.
3. Will I go to jail for failure to appear?
If the judge issues a bench warrant, you could go to jail for failure to appear. If you are picked up on the bench warrant you will stay in jail until your case is resolved or until your attorney is able to get the bench warrant lifted.
4. Will failure to appear show up on a background check?
No, failure to appear won’t show up as a conviction on a background check because it isn’t a crime itself. But if a judge decides to hold you in contempt, that can show up since it is a criminal offense.
5. Is failure to appear a crime?
No, failure to appear by itself is not a crime. However, a judge can hold you in contempt of court for failure to appear. Contempt of court is a crime.
6. Is failure to appear a misdemeanor or felony?
Failure to appear is neither a misdemeanor nor a felony because it is not a “crime.” See the answer to the question above for more details.
7. Do failure to appear warrants expire?
No, bench warrants for failure to appear do not expire. Warrants don’t have an expiration date. They can be removed from the system, but won’t disappear on their own after the passing of time. You can’t wait this one out!
8. Do I need a lawyer for failure to appear?
If you have been ordered to appear in court, you may already have a criminal defense attorney assisting on your original charge. If you don’t have a lawyer, you should probably get one immediately. If you are picked up on a bench warrant for failure to appear, you may be required to stay in jail until your case is resolved.
Finding an Attorney for Failure to Appear
If you have failed to appear for your court hearing, we would like to help you. Even a couple days in jail can affect your job, family, and future. Now that you’ve missed a court date, you need to show the court you take your charges seriously.
Call us now at (834) 488-5000 to discuss your situation or fill out our contact form online to set up a free consultation.