Failure to Appear

617-391-0592 You may have all sorts of reasons for missing a court date. You may have had an emergency come up, and were unable to get to court on time. You may have completely forgotten about the court date, or gotten the date wrong. In some cases, you may have never gotten notice of your pending court date, and can be cited for failure to appear at a hearing that you were never aware of. Whatever the reason, failure to appear will result in a warrant, which you should try and clear up as soon as possible.

What is a "Failure to Appear"?

Under Massachusetts law, if you miss a court proceeding, such as a traffic hearing or a DUI proceeding, you may have a warrant issued for your arrest due to your failure to appear. This warrant will not go away, until you take action to address your failure to appear.

What Proceedings Lead to a Failure to Appear?

If you are arrested or charged with a criminal violation, the court or police may release you on your own recognizance. Release is conditional on your agreeing to appear at a specified time and place. Failure to appear at that specified time and place is a violation of state law.

If you are on probation, and you have violated the terms of your probation, you may be subject to immediate arrest under a probation surrender warrant. This can come for failing to report to your probation officer, failure to attend mandatory counseling or treatment programs, failing a drug test, or even if the probation officer mistakenly thinks you violated probation.

What Will Happen If Police Stop Me?

If you have a default warrant or an arrest warrant, you are subject to arrest if the police stop you. If the police stop you for anything, even a traffic violation, a search of your name will notify them that you have a warrant, and you will be placed under arrest.

Failure to Appear Penalties

Failure to appear depends on the pending criminal proceeding. If a defendant fails to appear for a misdemeanor proceeding, they are subject to punishment by a fine of up to $10,000, and up to one year in prison. If a defendant fails to appear for a felony proceeding, they are subject to punishment by a fine of up to $50,000, and imprisonment of up to two and a half years. Imprisonment will be served consecutively to any other prison sentence for which the prisoner failed to appear.

A history of a failure to appear violation may also affect your future ability to get probation or parole, or be eligible for release on bail.

Failure to Appear for Jury Duty

Failure to appear for jury duty can result in a warrant, but only after continually ignoring jury notices. First, a potential juror will receive a notice of your summons for jury duty. If you ignore this summons, then the Office of Jury Commissioner will send a delinquency notice to any juror who failed to appear for jury service. This provides information for how to clear up your jury delinquency.

If you ignore the delinquency notice, after thirty days, the court may issue a criminal complaint against any delinquent juror. After a criminal complaint has been issued, you may be subject to arrest for your failure to appear for jury duty. The crime of failure to appear for jury service is punishable by a fine of up to $2,000.

How Long for a Failure to Appear Warrant to Go Away?

A warrant for your arrest won't just go away. Ignoring the warrant is the wrong approach. It will not go away on its own. You may be fearful of facing your arrest and criminal proceedings, but the longer you avoid the warrant the increased chances that you will eventually get caught. Failure to address your court proceedings can add additional penalties, including increased prison time, and increased fines.

What Can a Lawyer Do to Help?

An experienced criminal defense lawyer can help take care of a failure to appear warrant. A lawyer can also help you resolve any past or underlying criminal violations and missed court proceedings.

Defenses to a Failure to Appear Warrant

In most cases, the judge is not interested in hearing why you could not make the court appearance and failed to notify the court ahead of time. However, in some cases there are valid explanations for why you were unable to appear.

An attorney experienced in defending clients with failure to appear warrants for prior criminal proceedings will be able to address the issues facing their client. The best chance at clearing up a warrant is to be proactive. If you have a failure to appear warrant, a skilled lawyer can contact the court, and negotiate the terms required to get your warrant removed.