When you have a court date for a traffic case or criminal case in Pennsylvania, you must show up. If you fail to do so, you can face the consequences even if you aren’t found guilty of the offense for which you were required to appear.

Understanding the Consequences of “Failure to Appear”

Failure to appear is addressed in Rule 1910.13-1 of the Pennsylvania Code: “If a party fails to appear at a conference and/or hearing as directed by order of the court, the court may issue a bench warrant for the arrest of the party . . . .” If the court issues a bench warrant for your arrest, the police could pick you up, and you could be held in custody for up to 72 hours while you await a hearing.

How likely is it that you will actually get arrested if you have a bench warrant? In most cases, the police will not knock on your door or try to locate you. However, if you get pulled over and the officer sees a bench warrant pending, the officer could arrest you and take you into custody.

In Pennsylvania, failure to appear for a scheduled court date can also lead to:

  • Forfeiture of bond
  • Fines
  • Driver’s license suspension

What If You Had a Legitimate Reason for Your Failure to Appear?

For a judge to issue a bench warrant under Rule 1910.13-1, the judge must find that either: (i) you had “actual notice” that you were required to appear in court, or (ii) you were served with a copy of the order requiring your appearance. If you did not have “actual notice” (i.e., no one told you) and you were not served with a copy of the order, then you shouldn’t have a bench warrant issued for your arrest.

If you knew about your court date and you missed it for a legitimate reason, you may be able to avoid the consequences discussed above. However, to do so, you will need to address your situation proactively—as discussed in greater detail below. While judges consider defendants’ circumstances on a case-by-case basis, reasons for missing a court date that may be considered “legitimate” include:

  • You had a medical emergency
  • A family member had a medical emergency and needed your help
  • You were involved in a car accident on the way to court

Keep in mind; these issues must actually prevent you from making it to court on time. If you went to the doctor the day before your court date, you are going to have a much harder time convincing the judge that there was nothing you could do to appear or at least notify the court in advance.

What if You Didn’t Have a Legitimate Reason for Your Failure to Appear?

If you didn’t have a legitimate reason for your failure to appear, you would need to deal with your situation differently. An experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to advise you regarding the best approach. If you forgot about your court date, this could be better than if you chose not to go, but this can be a precarious defense—and it needs to be handled accordingly.

What Should You Do if You Missed Your Court Date in Pennsylvania?

So, you missed your court date. What should you do? At this point, your next step should be to consult with a defense attorney. Your defense attorney will be able to determine:

  • If the judge issued a bench warrant for your arrest (and if so, on what basis)
  • What other consequences you may be facing as a result of your failure to appear
  • When your next court date has been scheduled
  • What type of defense you should assert when you appear at your next scheduled hearing
  • What evidence you can use to help establish your defense (i.e., your medical records if you had a medical emergency)

Even though you should have another hearing scheduled (unless you were facing a summary charge, in which case the judge could have found you guilty in your absence), it may be in your best interests to have your attorney contact the court before your hearing. If you try to “wait out” your bench warrant, not only could you potentially be taken into custody, but you could also have a more difficult time convincing the judge to exercise discretion in your favor. With that said, at this point, you do not want to try to contact the court on your own—you need to be very careful, and you need to make smart decisions based on an attorney’s advice.

Don’t Forget that Your Traffic Case or Criminal Case is Still Pending

While it can be easy to focus on the fact that you missed your court date—and while this is an issue you need to address promptly—you must not lose sight of the fact that your traffic case or criminal case is still pending (unless the judge found you guilty in your absence). It would help if you still fought the charge (or charges) against you, and you need to do so by all means available.

In addition to dealing with your failure to appear, your attorney can also build your defense strategy. There are numerous potential defenses to all types of traffic and criminal charges in Pennsylvania, but you must choose the right defenses based on the issues presented in your case. Your attorney can determine what defenses you have available, negotiate with the prosecution (if this is in your best interests), challenge the admissibility of the prosecution’s evidence, and fight to protect you from what could be the life-altering consequences of a conviction.

Discuss Your Case with Philadelphia Defense Lawyer Brian Fishman

Did you miss your court date in Pennsylvania? If so, you should talk to a defense lawyer right away. To discuss your case with Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer Brian Fishman in confidence, call 267-758-2228 or request a confidential consultation online now.