what happens if you get summoned to court and don’t go
Consequences of Missing a Court Date After Being Summoned
Missing a scheduled court date after being properly summoned can result in serious legal and financial consequences. The specific penalties depend on the type of court case and other factors, but in general, a warrant could be issued for your arrest, fines and fees imposed, a default judgment entered against you, your driver’s license suspended, or even jail time in some instances. Understanding what can happen is key to appreciating why you should never ignore a court summons.
Understanding Court Summons
A court summons is an official legal document issued by the court clerk and served by mail, law enforcement officer, or process server ordering a defendant to appear in court on a specific date and time to address a legal matter. The summons provides details on the reason for the required court appearance. There are many different types of civil and criminal court case summons.
Reasons People Miss Court Dates
Despite receiving an official notice to go to court, some people still fail to appear. Reasons include:
- Forgetting about the date
- Not taking the summons seriously
- Conflicting appointments or scheduling issues
- Lack of transportation
- Fear of legal consequences
- Deliberate avoidance
While these reasons may seem valid at the time, they do not legally excuse you from showing up as commanded in a summons.
Traffic Ticket Summons
A traffic ticket itself acts as a summons to appear in traffic court on the noted date to address the cited moving violation or traffic infraction. For minor issues like parking tickets, you can usually pay a fine instead of going to court. But for criminal traffic violations like DUI, you must appear or face prosecution for failing to appear.
Civil Court Summons
On the civil litigation side, you may be summoned to appear as a plaintiff bringing a lawsuit, a defendant being sued, witness, or interested party in a civil legal dispute. Different rules apply depending on the type of civil case and jurisdiction, but attendance is always mandatory barring an approved legal excuse.
Small Claims Court
If you are sued in small claims court over a minor financial, consumer, or other civil claim, ignoring the court date can allow the plaintiff to seek a default judgment against you for the amount demanded plus court costs. Your state may also impose fines for blowing off a small claims court appearance.
Skipping out on a scheduled divorce court hearing can jeopardize your case. The judge can rule against you on contested issues by default or even find you in contempt of court if you have an ongoing duty to appear, potentially resulting in large fines or even jail time in some states.
Criminal Court Summons
Courts take attendance most seriously in criminal cases. A criminal summons commands an appearance before the court on a set date to answer to misdemeanor or felony criminal charges against you. Beyond risking arrest and further prosecution, not showing up demonstrates consciousness of guilt, loses you negotiating leverage, and forfeits your chance to defend yourself.
Failure to Appear Charge
If you fail to honor a criminal court summons, the judge can issue a bench warrant for your immediate arrest. The prosecutor can also file formal criminal charges against you for the separate crime of failure to appear, contempt of court, or bail jumping. When arrested on the warrant, you will be jailed and prosecuted for both the original case and your failure to appear violation.
Bench Warrant Can Be Issued
When you miss any court appearance after being properly served a summons or subpoena, the judge can immediately issue a bench warrant for your arrest. This includes civil litigation, family court, traffic court, and other proceedings. Bench warrant orders law enforcement to pick you up and bring you before the court to explain why you did not show up. If you miss a criminal court date, prosecutors can seek one or more of these warrants to compel your presence and bring you to trial.
Additional Penalties and Fines
Beyond a failure to appear or contempt charge, not showing up to court can hit you hard in the wallet. Specific financial penalties vary widely based on your case type, jurisdiction and excuse reasons, if any. Fines can range from a couple hundred to a few thousand dollars. Courts can also enter default money judgments against you, assign all court costs to you, suspend your driver’s license, and impose other monetary sanctions. If jailed after arrest on a warrant, you must pay bail bond fees for your release too.
Steps to Take if You Miss a Court Date
If you fail to appear for a court hearing after being properly served notice, take the following remedial actions:
Hire an Attorney
Retaining legal counsel helps get your failure to appear excused and defend against additional charges. Experienced local criminal defense lawyers and civil litigators know all procedural remedies and substantive defenses to apply on your behalf. They can request new court dates, file motions to vacate warrants and entries of default, negotiate settlements on the charges, and seek case dismissals where appropriate.
File Motion to Excuse Absence
Depending on the reasons and circumstances, your attorney may file a formal motion asking the judge to legally excuse your nonappearance. Supporting documentation like accident reports, medical records and sworn statements help justify missing the hearing. If accepted by the court, the absence gets removed from your record so you avoid punishment. But the excuses must establish extreme emergent reasons you could not make it or notify the court beforehand.
Provide Documentation for Absence
Back up any motion to excuse with evidence like doctor’s notes, vehicle repair invoices, obituaries for family member deaths, and other records proving a legitimate overriding emergency that prevented your timely attendance. Dates must match the missed court date. Know that routine personal, family or work obligations will not suffice. Illness requires professional verification. Transportation issues alone are insufficient.
Request New Court Date
Through counsel, ask the court to set a new hearing date so your case may be heard on the merits. As long as the court has not already ruled against you or entered a final judgment, this request stands a good chance since the justice system favors determinations on the evidence where possible. Be sure to formally accept service of the new summons document to avoid further attendance issues.
Turn Yourself In
If you learn a bench warrant exists for your arrest, turning yourself into the court or nearest police precinct can show responsibility and prevent officers forcibly detaining you later in embarrassing or dangerous situations. Voluntary appearance also starts the process for getting the warrant recalled so you can address the original case. Hire an attorney to arrange and vouch for you.
Conclusion and Tips for Avoiding Missed Court Dates
Getting summoned to any court means appearing as commanded is mandatory. Skip the date and you face fines, civil judgments, jail time, driver’s license suspension, and criminal conviction consequences now as well as into the future. Protect yourself by carefully minding these tips:
Carefully Review All Paperwork
Read everything in your summons documents multiple times so you know the precise courthouse location, courtroom number, hearing purpose, and date plus time you must show up. Also confirm the contact details for the court clerk to request an emergency postponement beforehand if absolutely necessary.
Note Court Date on Your Calendar
As soon as you receive a summons, write down the court date and reminder alerts leading up to it in your phone, computer, wall planner, or calendar app. Also note details like address, room number, parking recommendations, and items like identification to bring. Schedule nothing else that day.
Arrange Transportation Ahead of Time
Ensure you have reliable transportation arranged well in advance to get you to court on the right date with time to spare. Verify parking availability and costs. Have backup public transit options researched as well in case issues arise with your primary means.
Request Change of Date if Necessary
If you have a legitimate conflict with the scheduled court hearing date that you cannot move, contact the court clerk upon receiving the summons to request a good cause postponement in writing. Supply documentation and give plenty of notice. Get firm confirmation of any changes.
Arrive Early to Court
On court day, budget extra drive and walk time to pass through courthouse security, locate your assigned courtroom, speak to the clerk, prosecutor or your own attorney beforehand if applicable, use the facilities if needed, and get settled ahead of calendar call to avoid entering mid-session. Rushing tight to time risks accidental absence.
Following best practices for managing court summons details sets you up to timely satisfy your legal duty to appear. Never just ignore such an order thinking it does not matter. Documented unavoidable emergencies do happen but require prompt attention thereafter. Otherwise turn yourself in. Stay fully compliant whenever called to any court and avoid further problems.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Can I call the court if I miss my date?
A: Yes, you should call the court clerk’s office as soon as reasonably possible after missing a court date to find out the best next steps, including potentially arranging a new court date. However, calling alone does not excuse your absence so you still need to take additional steps like hiring a lawyer to file paperwork on your behalf.
Q: Do I have to pay the fine if I miss traffic court?
A: If you miss traffic court after getting a summons, you will likely have to pay the original ticket fine plus substantial additional failure to appear penalties and reinstatement fees to remove any license suspension ordered by the court before getting caught up on the case.
Q: What if I had car trouble and no phone service to inform the court?
A: While documented car breakdowns or cell service issues might help explain missing your court date after the fact, you have to provide concrete proof like repair receipts dated the same day as court to support getting the absence formally excused and warrant recalled.
Q: Can I represent myself if I belatedly appear on a bench warrant?
A: Technically yes but having an attorney with you to advocate the warrant get withdrawn, handle the original court case, and negotiate plea deals on any failure to appear charges provides the best chance to mitigate penalties versus struggling through alone as a layperson.
Q: What if my child was sick so I missed divorce court?
A: While children’s health emergencies can justify being absent from court assuming you supply pediatrician records as proof, know that simple illnesses and routine kid issues seldom convince judges to vacate orders made in your absence. Retain counsel to formally make the best case possible arguing inevitable exigent circumstances.