If you have been charged with criminal activity and you are out on bail or awaiting a resolution to your case, you will typically have a few very important dates to keep track of in order to present your case and begin your court proceedings. As part of the process, you have a duty to appear before the court and plead your case at your designated court dates.
Missing a court date can be seriously detrimental to your continued freedom during your trial and may even have a negative impact on the final ruling. It’s critical to keep your court dates as much as possible, and if you miss them, get the help of a criminal defense attorney right away to mitigate any potential repercussions. When you have a court date in New Jersey, you are required to show up. If you don’t, you can face consequences based upon your failure to appear. These consequences can vary depending on the nature of the charge (or charges) against you and whether your case is pending in municipal or criminal court.
However, regardless of the circumstances involved, you cannot simply ignore the fact that you missed your court date, and you will need to consult with a New Jersey criminal lawyer to determine what to do next.
What Happens if You Skip Municipal Court?
The severity of the penalties for skipping a court date depends on many factors, but it’s key to consider where your case is being tried — New Jersey’s municipal court or a superior court. In municipal court, if you fail to appear on your scheduled day in court, the judge may issue a “failure to appear” notice.
This could lead to a simple rescheduling of your case for a future date, but the judge could also decide to issue a warrant for your arrest. If your date is rescheduled, the judge will re-list the case. When you do appear before the court, either as a result of a rescheduled date or an arrest, you will have to provide an explanation for skipping your original date.
If your reason for skipping court is not a valid emergency, the judge will likely issue a nominal contempt fine, which will be paid at the end of the case along with any other fees or fines incurred. The judge might also choose to forfeit your bail, so you will need to come up with an additional amount to re-post bail or spend the rest of the time in jail until your case is completed.
Consequences of Failure to Appear: Municipal Court
The consequences of failing to appear in New Jersey municipal court vary for different types of cases:
If you fail to appear in municipal court for a parking ticket, the judge will issue a failure to appear notice. You will need to follow the instructions on the notice to preserve your right to defend yourself in court. If you fail to appear for more than one parking ticket, the judge can issue a bench warrant for your arrest. The judge will also notify Motor Vehicles and your license will be suspended. You will need to take additional steps (and pay a fee) to get your driver’s license restored.
In most cases, the judge will also issue a failure to appear notice when a defendant misses a court date for a traffic violation. However, the judge has the discretion to issue a bench warrant upon a defendant’s first failure to appear. Failing to appear in a traffic violation case can result in loss of driving privileges as well.
Other Municipal Court Cases
If you miss a court date for another type of municipal court case, the judge can issue a warrant and will also notify Motor Vehicles and your license will be suspended. Crucially, the judge can also allow your case to proceed in your absence. This means that you will forfeit your right to assert a defense, and it is highly likely that you will be found guilty of the offense (or offenses) with which you have been charged.
What Happens if You Skip Superior Court?
Failing to make a scheduled appearance in superior court can be much more serious than a missed municipal court appearance. Bail posted in superior court for an indictable offense can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars, and defendants who post bail and then fail to show up in court do not usually receive any leniency from the judge.
Skipping superior court typically leads to the automatic issuance of an arrest warrant unless your attorney can provide a compelling reason for your absence. A medical emergency or any other excuse for missing superior court must be supported by paperwork and documentation.
Consequences of Failure to Appear: Superior Court (Criminal Court)
Failing to appear in criminal court is another matter altogether. If you miss your court date, you can face a bench warrant and lose your driving privileges. Additionally, prosecutors can seek to file charges under New Jersey law. For instance, if you are facing trial for a fourth-degree indictable offense, you can be charged with an additional fourth-degree offense. Likewise, if you are facing trial for a third-degree offense or higher, you can face an additional third-degree charge.
These are not necessarily the only possible consequences of failing to appear in court in New Jersey. To make sure you understand all of the risks you are facing, you should consult with a New Jersey criminal lawyer promptly.
How Many Times?
Once is enough for a person to be charged with “bail jumping” for his or her willful failure to make it to court. Bail jumping is graded based on the crime for which someone failed to appear. For instance, if the individual failed to appear for a fourth-degree crime, bail jumping is considered a disorderly person offense that is punishable by up to 6 months in jail and up to $1,000. For third-degree crimes, bail jumping is a fourth-degree crime punishable by up to 18 months in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
For second-degree crime or higher, bail jumping is a third-degree crime punishable by up to 5 years in prison and up to a $15,000 fine.
What To Do if You Miss Your Court Date
When you find yourself involved in the New Jersey criminal court system, every action and decision may end up under the scrutiny and judgment of the court. Given the criminal court’s power and discretion over a criminal case’s outcome, it is incredibly risky and dangerous to show disrespect or a lack of seriousness toward the court. Courts are very busy and time is a precious commodity, so missing a court date is taken extremely seriously and can even result in consequences as severe as facing additional legal charges.
If you’ve missed a court date, even without the intention of doing so, you may create a very strong and lasting negative impression on the court system and judge in your case. There are certain things that one should and should NOT do in the event that one miss a court date. Turn to a skilled and knowledgeable New Jersey criminal defense attorney at Helmer, Conley & Kasselman who is prepared to provide you with a top-notch defense and inform you of the possibilities you may face if you’ve missed a court date.
Even though you may have reasons or explanations for missing court that feel very valid and justified, short of an incapacitating medical emergency (such as being hospitalized), it is unlikely that the court or judge will have much sympathy for you. Courts give dates in advance, and it is not their responsibility to provide reminders or help defendants get organized.
While it is important to be humble and apologetic when admitting your error to the court, it is also important to keep a positive attitude and take responsibility for your actions. Take responsibility and explain how and why this will not happen again. Recognize that the court system has limited resources and missing your court date is not just inconsiderate but also disruptive to the court’s efficiency and effectiveness in its operations. Missing a court date is unacceptable and an equally serious offense to all courts, from traffic court to criminal court.
Don't Make Any Assumptions or Prepare for One Outcome
There is no guaranteed outcome for what will happen when you miss a court date. The totality of the circumstances involved in missing your court date will be taken into account when determining what consequences will be imposed as a result.
Below are some potential outcomes of missing your court date:
- You may be charged a monetary fine
- You may be charged with the offense of failure to appear
- A warrant may be issued for your arrest
Do You Need to Talk To a New Jersey Criminal Lawyer?
Have you missed a court date in New Jersey municipal or criminal court? Call 877-435-6371 or contact us online to get a confidential consultation as soon as possible. For more information on criminal proceedings and court requirements, contact the attorneys at Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, a New Jersey criminal defense law firm.
Over 20 attorneys at HCK have extensive experience in defending traffic and criminal cases as they were former assistant prosecutors and/or police officers for a combined total of over 600 years of law enforcement experience. You can find out more about them on our site, and you can call Managing Partner Ron Helmer on his cell phone at 609 685-0665.