It is common for people to accidentally forget their court date and time. Sometimes people have a medical emergency, vehicle breakdowns, family obligations, or are simply fearful about the outcome of their case and try to ignore the charge, hoping it will go away. Unfortunately, this can be a mistake in misdemeanor and felony criminal cases in Virginia. Courts may issue what is called a "Capias" or Warrant of Arrest for Failure to Appear (FTA). This results in the person facing exposure to a new charge and being re-arrested. They now face prosecution on multiple criminal counts.
What Happens If I Miss My Court Date?
If a person was originally charged with a traffic/criminal misdemeanor, three different things may happen. First, the person may be tried in their absence. If the person is tried in their absence and found guilty, an appeal or Motion to Rehear the case may be filed. In General District Court, an appeal may be filed within ten (10) calendar days and a Motion to Rehear the Case may be filed within sixty (60) days.
Second, a Rule to Show Cause for Contempt of Court may be issued by the judge. The Rule to Show Cause is served as a misdemeanor Summons and the person is not physically arrested. Instead, they are given a new court date to explain why they did not appear. The judge may convict the person and impose a fine or jail time, unless there is a compelling reason for the absence. If the judge dismisses the Rule to Show Cause for Failure to Appear at the hearing for good cause, he or she will re-set the original charges on another date for trial.
Third, the judge may issue a Warrant of Arrest for Failure to Appear. When an FTA is issued on an underlying misdemeanor offense such as Reckless Driving, it will be charged as a misdemeanor. Failure to Appear in Virginia is charged under Virginia Code §19.2-128. It is a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by zero to twelve months in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500.00. The judge hearing the original case will issue a bench warrant (capias) at the hearing in the person's absence. The Warrant of Arrest for FTA may be served at the person's residence, workplace, or on traffic stops when a police officer has routine contact with the person and checks their history.
If a person has a felony charge and misses the court date, the Failure to Appear is charged as a Class 6 Felony, punishable by zero to five years in jail, and/or a fine of up to $2,500.00. This can be quite serious, because people charged with felonies are out on secured bond. A FTA Warrant may result in their bond status being revoked when they are re-arrested. The person then must spend weeks or months in jail until their case is resolved. If you miss your court date on a felony you need to immediately talk to a lawyer to get the matter addressed! If you have documentation to explain your court absence, like hospital records or other emergency reasons, make sure to provide the papers to the lawyer in your meeting.
The Court must have proof that the Defendant had Notice of their missed court date before convicting someone of Failure to Appear.
How Do I Know What Happened In Court When I Did Not Appear?
You may check the status of your criminal or traffic charge at the Virginia Court Case Information database. Enter the correct county where the charge was filed and the name of the defendant as it is exactly spelled on the Uniform Summons or Warrant of Arrest. The information on the website will tell you if the person was found guilty in their absence or a Capias for Faillure to Appear was issued. If you cannot understand the information or it is unclear, the law office advises you to contact a lawyer to interpret the case details.
The Bonding Company that posted bond with the court for your release and the Supervised Release Counselor will need to be notified of the status of the missed court date (if applicable to your case). Any contact with the police may result in arrest on the pending Failure to Appear warrant. Please read the Fairfax County General District Court advisement notice about missed court dates.
How Can Someone Charged With Failure to Appear Get It Dismissed?
An experienced attorney can help a person who missed their misdemeanor or felony court date by filing a Motion to Vacate the Bench Warrant for Failure to Appear. This motion is filed with the clerk and is a request to remove the Bench Warrant or Rule to Show Cause from the record. If it is granted the judge will remove the warrant and set the original case for trial or Preliminary Hearing to a new date.
The Motion can be filed and heard within a couple of days after the lawyer is hired. It is best to file the Motion as soon as practicable. Judges are more receptive to this type of Motion and will grant the relief if the person charged makes a diligent effort to correct the situation soon after the mistake. You do not want to wait months after the missed court date to file this type of Motion.
Often, clients miss court dates due to medical emergencies, vehicle breakdowns, family obligations, or clerk paperwork mistakes. It is important to have any paperwork that explains the absence available to the judge. Provide this documentation to your lawyer so that the motion will be successful.
If the Judge grants the motion, you will given a new court date and allowed to remain out free on the terms of your original bond.
If the Judge does not accept your explanation and denies the motion, he or she may serve the Capias Warrant of Arrest in court and allow you to leave the courtroom. You then will be released on your personal recognizance and be given a new court date for the underlying offense and the new FTA. The Failure to Appear may still be dismissed at the next court date as the result of a disposition or plea agreement with the prosecutor (Commonwealth Attorney).
In more serious cases, especially when there have been previous Failure to Appear charges on your record, the Judge may find that the Failure to Appear was willful. The Motion to Vacate the Capias may be denied. The bond may then be revoked and the person held in custody until their new court date. Fortunately, the law office has not seen this result with its clients.
Contact the Law Office of Wilfred W. Yeargan for Guidance and Help With Failure to Appear
The law office has had a great deal of success helping clients charged with Failure to Appear in Virginia. Attorney Yeargan is extremely experienced with the court system in Northern Virginia, and understands what approach to take for your FTA in Fairfax County, Prince William County, Loudoun County, Arlington County, the City of Alexandria and other jurisdictions. His personal reputation and 22 years of experience working with judges and prosecutors throughout the state give him a confident approach that helps clients solve their problems. Contact the law office today for help with your criminal and traffic defense issues. The law office offers a free, initial consultation over the telephone or in person.