What Happens If I Miss a Court Date (Failure to Appear)?

Court cases can take a long time. Even if you are involved in a simple legal case, the sheer time for case resolution can be demanding for all participants. If you happen to be a defendant, the prosecuting attorneys can and will use every tool at their disposal to ensure the best outcome for them. That includes painting you as a scofflaw who should be considered guilty based on your absence alone. A crucial consideration here is having a competent, principled advocate on your side to defend you from these rather gray area tactics.

As a defendant, you are likely to be called to appear in court several times before the case is resolved. Missing a mandatory court date can result in the judge issuing a bench warrant for your arrest. A bench warrant means the defendant will be arrested to ensure their appearance in court. Although this is legal, is it just?

Often, people have commitments that they need to maintain, like their jobs or taking care of someone in your care. If this results in a missed court date, the courts and the prosecuting attorneys have a toolbox full of additional charges they can use to make the defendant’s life tougher. Failure to appear can result in “bail jumping” charges and even considering the absence as “flight evidence.” Flight evidence implies that failure to appear means that you are habitually trying to avoid appearing in court because you know that you are guilty of the charges. Quite a stretch, wouldn’t you say? And not exactly in line with “guilty until proven innocent.”

But the Washington Supreme Court has ruled that missing a single appearance is not an indication of willful avoidance, especially when the defendant showed for their next appearance. The court essentially clarified the definition of “flight evidence” and noted that it should be used when it can be established that a person has consciousness of guilt. This is as opposed to a blanket punishment for not appearing in court.

Being a defendant in a legal case can be overwhelming and stressful. That said, most of the issues that can result from failure to appear can be avoided by keeping a solid line of communication with legal counsel. By appearing in court and reassuring the court of the nature of the absence, the likelihood of complications arising are greatly reduced.