What happens when you skip a court date?

April 03 2018


Do you know someone who has skipped a court date or been the subject of a warrant for failing to appear in court? The repercussions of missing a scheduled court appearance, whether it's for a civil or criminal case, are not to be taken lightly. 
 
Criminal Cases
Nonviolent criminal charges, like driving without insurance, probably won't immediately land you in jail. If you fail to appear in court on these criminal charges, however, the judge can issue a bench warrant for your arrest. It's possible you'll serve time in jail if the judge doesn't accept your excuse for failing to appear before the court when you were originally scheduled. 
 
Civil Cases
Civil cases are handled a bit differently than criminal cases. You must be served a summons for a civil court to have jurisdiction over you. You could be served via certified mail, but in some jurisdictions, only process servers and law enforcement officers can carry out this procedure. Until the summons is served, a civil court does not have jurisdiction over you and you don't have to appear in court. 
 
How to Handle a Missed Appearance 
Once you find out about your missed criminal court appearance, head to the court as soon as possible to resolve the warrant and explain your situation. If you have a legitimate reason for missing -- maybe you recently moved and the summons didn't arrive at your forwarding address -- then it's possible the court will set another date.
 
Unfortunately, it might be too late if you missed a civil court appearance unless you can prove you were improperly served. If you missed the appearance through no fault of your own, the court date could be rescheduled. If you were properly served, then it's possible you have now lost the case by default. 
 
Please reach out if you have questions.