I frequently help people when they fail to appear at a scheduled court date, in New Jersey. Failure to appear can be serious. How I approach the problem depends on several factors. I determine whether they have failed to appear in a New Jersey municipal court, or a superior court. I also determine how many times it has happened, as well as how serious the underlying charges are. All are factors which determine how a court will react to an absentee defendant. The consequences for missing court varies, and can be quite serious, therefore it is important to handle these types of situation very carefully.
The remedies available to a judge are provided by Court Rule 7:8-9, under the portion of the rules which govern trials. In municipal court, if a defendant fails to appear for a scheduled court date, a judge may issue a “failure to appear” notice, and simply re-list the matter for a future date, or issue an arrest warrant. If the judge has either re-listed the matter, or the defendant is brought in on the warrant, a defendant will have to tell the judge why he failed to appear. Unless the reason for the absence was a valid emergency, a judge will often issue a nominal contempt fine, which is often paid in addition to any other fees and fines, at the conclusion of the case. A judge may also forfeit a defendant’s bail, meaning that the defendant loses their bail permanently, and must post additional bail (usually in a higher amount) or they will be incarcerated until the case is resolved. In the case of a parking ticket, a judge may not issue an arrest warrant unless a defendant has missed two scheduled court dates. A judge also has the power to suspend a defendant’s driving privileges until they appear for court. A defendant will then have to resolve their matter, as well as pay a restoration fee at the Commission of Motor Vehicles to restore their license. Usually, When I am representing a particular client, a judge will be very hesitant to issue a warrant for arrest, and will defer to the explanation I provide the court. When a warrant has already been issued, and I am retained after the fact, unless a client has persistently failed to appear, a court will usually retract the warrant as a professional courtesy in the interest of judicial economy in resolving the case as quickly as possible.
When a defendant has failed to appear for a superior court date, the situation is much more complicated. Unlike bail in municipal court, bail posted for indictable matters can be in the tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is a real concern. Judges are much less inclined to give a defendant a “freebee” for simply missing court, and will usually issue an arrest warrant, unless a very strong excuse is given by the defendant’s attorney. A court will usually require documentation to prove something like a medical emergency, or some other very serious circumstance preventing the court appearance. When a warrant has been issued,I must arrange a day and time to help my client turn himself in. This is beneficial as it allows me to prove to a court that my client is coming voluntarily, and not seeking to evade justice. Under those circumstances, law enforcement will extend a professional courtesy to me, and not seek out my client for arrest. This must be done carefully, and coordinated with law enforcement and The Criminal Case Management Office in the courthouse. The trick, is to time it so I can get my client in front of a judge as quickly as possible so the judge can withdraw the warrant and continue the bail (leave my client free on bail, without forfeiting same). Failure of an attorney to time it properly, like scheduling the turn in date for a busy Friday, means a lawyer’s client might not get in front of a judge at all, and may mean he spends the weekend incarcerated. Not a good situation. There is another serious complication that can result, on rare occasions, for a client’s failure to appear on a scheduled court date. If a defendant fails to appear consistently and without valid explanation, a prosecutor may file for the issuance of another serious criminal charge; Bail Jumping, pursuant to 2C:29-7. This can be charged as a third degree indictable offense, which has a 5 year statutory maximum period of incarceration in state prison. This new charge does not preclude a judge from also sanctioning the defendant for contempt of court, with additional jail time and additional fines.
Serious and random events occur in life, which may preclude an appearance in court on a particular date. I have been practicing criminal defense law for over 15 years. When my clients take my advice, stay in close contact with me, and don’t wait for the last minute to tell me they are having a problem which might preclude their court appearance, I can almost always handle it without any of the consequences discussed above. But when client’s don’t take my advice, they place themselves in jeopardy, and risk running into a judge who doesn’t want to hear an excuse. Those defendants usually wind up spending more money in contempt fines, risk losing their bail, and sometimes end up in jail.