What are the consequences if you fail to appear in court for your criminal case?
A good number of Texans who are arrested will be eligible to post bail. Some will even be released on their own recognizance. In either case, the defendant is agreeing to appear in court at a later date.
But what happens if that person fails to appear in court as agreed?
There can be severe consequences for failing to appear. If you or a loved one failed to appear, it’s essential that you meet with an experienced Texas criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
Here are just a few things that could happen:
Issuing a bench warrant
Failing to appear for a scheduled court date can result in the presiding judge issuing a bench warrant. As a result, you will be subject to being arrested again. This can happen during a routine traffic stop when police run your name through a database. A license plate scanner might also identify you while you are driving around Houston.
You might even be hunted down by a licensed bail bondsman or bounty hunter. When posting bond, you pay only a percentage of your actual bail amount. The bail bondsman pays the rest and forfeits the money if you do not appear. At that point, he or she will have a vested interest in seeing you apprehended.
If you believe you have a bench warrant, it will not do you much good to hide. Sooner or later you will be found and brought back into custody. At that point, the odds of successfully negotiating a plea agreement decrease significantly. Rather than remaining a fugitive, we invite you to contact the Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp for free advice on how to best navigate your charges.
Penalties and punishments for failure to appear
A judge will first try to determine whether or not there were extenuating circumstances that prevented you from appearing. Some situations are looked upon more favorably than others. For example, a court may show you some grace if you have recently been hospitalized, but may not grant mercy if your excuse is a lack of childcare or conflicting work schedule.
If the court decides you were irresponsible, it will then assess a penalty for failing to appear. This penalty will likely correlate to the nature and severity of your original charges. Some possible sanctions include:
- A Class C misdemeanor for offenses that result only in a fine. Minor traffic offenses normally fall into this category. In this case, the penalty would be a fine of up to $500.
- A Class A misdemeanor if the original arrest was also a misdemeanor. An example would be the possession of marijuana. This can result in a fine of up to $4,000 and/or as much as 1 year in jail.
- A third-degree felony if you originally were arrested on a felony charge such as DWI or burglary. This can result in up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
The above penalties are in addition to any sanctions you may be charged with for the original arrest. In addition, courts tend to look less favorably on those who have failed to live up to their agreements. Accordingly, violating public trust could land you a more severe sentence on your initial charges as well.
Criminal matters are always very serious. They become even more so when there are complications such as a Harris County failure to appear. If you are facing charges, it is imperative you seek advice from a reliable criminal defense attorney.
Affirmative defenses for failure to appear in Texas
Depending upon the circumstances, you may be eligible for certain affirmative defenses. An affirmative defense is used when you are guilty but have a good reason for having committed a particular crime. For a Texas failure to appear, some appropriate defenses might be:
- Having been incarcerated elsewhere
- Being hospitalized in a medical or mental health facility
- Experiencing temporary mental insanity that left you unable to rationalize
- Having been kidnapped or held against your will so that you were unable to leave
It doesn’t matter whether you are actually guilty of the crime you posted bail for. Although you are innocent until proven guilty, you must nonetheless allow your case to work its way through the system. If anything, jurors may be more likely to prejudge you as guilty if they feel you are trying to run away or hide.
You can also be charged with a failure to appear in Texas even if the statute of limitations for your original offense has already run. So you should not think that you can “run out the clock” simply by avoiding your court date.
Rather than facing only 1 set of charges, you must now deal with 2. Crafting your own defense at a time such as this could result in devastating consequences. Rather than go it alone, contact a criminal defense attorney who will ensure that your legal rights are fully protected.
If you have recently been charged with a failure to appear, it is important to take immediate action. Contact the Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp to schedule a free consultation and give yourself the best possible odds of a favorable outcome.