Thinking about skipping a court date? Think again.
By law, defendants are required to appear in court in person at all scheduled settings. Failure to appear, also known as bail jumping, is a serious, separate criminal offense that can result in severe consequences. Oversleeping, working, or forgetting are not legitimate excuses for not showing up in court.
What constitutes failure to appear in Texas?
Unlike many aspects of criminal law, the elements of this criminal offense are straightforward. According to Texas Penal Code 38.10, bail jumping and failure to appear are defined as: “A person lawfully released from custody, with or without bail, on condition that he subsequently appear commits an offense if he intentionally or knowingly fails to appear in accordance of his release.”
What can happen if you fail to appear in court?
Several things can happen if you fail to appear in court. The judge can issue a warrant for your arrest and your bond may be forfeited – meaning you lose the money or collateral put up for your release from jail on the original charge.
Additionally, a separate criminal charge of failure to appear can be brought against you. The penalty for jumping bail depends on the type of crime for which you were originally charged. For example, if you fail to appear for a misdemeanor offense, the penalty will be less severe than skipping a court date for a felony charge. The charges and penalties for failure to appear include:
- Class C Misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $500 fine, if the original charge was a Class C Misdemeanor.
- Class A Misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in the county jail and a $4,000 fine, if the original charge was a Class A or B Misdemeanor.
- Third Degree Felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine, if the original charge was a felony.
Excuses, Excuses. Defenses you can raise for failure to appear.
Although Judges often react swiftly and harshly to missed court appearances, the law recognizes that, at times, there are valid excuses for failing to appear. The statute includes two specific defenses that, if successfully argued, could result in an excused absence:
- Your court appearance was incident to parole, community supervision or an intermittent sentence. For example, it’s unlikely you will be penalized if you were in jail in another county.
- You have a “reasonable excuse,” such as an unforeseen medical emergency, a death in the family, or were not properly notified of the court date. These arguments will be carefully considered by the judge. Be prepared to produce evidence supporting your absence, such as hospital records.
Catching bail jumpers.
Freedom is often short lived for individuals who intentionally skip court. Once the judge issues a warrant, the defendant’s name will be added to a warrant database that law enforcement officials can access during traffic stops, at border crossings or even at the airport. Not to mention, bondsmen, bounty hunters and U.S. Marshals may actively look for bail jumpers, especially those who are charged with a felony.
The takeaway is this: Being accused of a crime is frightening, but a court date is one appointment you don’t want to miss.