What Happens if I Fail to Appear in Court in New Jersey?
Being summoned to court is always a serious matter, which makes failing to appear in court on the date required a serious offense. New Jersey has specific rules outlining what happens when a court date is missed. The consequences can include an arrest warrant being issued against you, having your driving privileges suspended, having your bail revoked and even potentially losing the right to have you case heard by the court. Judges also do not appreciate people who waste their time, which can turn an case that was comfortably in your favor into a much more uncertain proposition.
Consequences of Failing to Appear in Court
What exactly the consequences are depends on the offense and which court the case is being heard by.
These cases will likely result in a Failure to Appear notice being issued. This notice will tell you what exactly you should do now that your court date has passed. Failure to comply with the notice can potentially end with an arrest warrant being issued and the will involve the NJ Motor Vehicle Commission being notified and possibly having your driver’s license suspended.
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These will also end up with a Failure to Appear notice being sent out. However, in cases where there are two or more tickets issued from the same jurisdiction, an arrest warrant be issued even if you comply with the failure notice. Another likely consequence is the loss of driving privileges. Traffic and parking violations are unlikely to result in jail time unless you are picked up on a bench warrant.
Non-Traffic or Parking Municipal or Civil Offenses
It is likely if you don’t show up to court that an arrest warrant will be put out for you and your driving privileges will be suspended, regardless of whether the case involves a motor vehicle. Even worse is that the law allows the court to continue the case in your absence, essentially forfeiting your right to defend yourself. You may also forfeit bail and thus have to post additional bail or be incarcerated. If you fail to appear for a disorderly persons offense, you can be charged with an extra disorderly persons offense on top of the existing one. This can mean extra fines of up to $1,000 and additional jail time of up to 6 months.
Superior Court Offenses
The consequences for failing to appear in a Superior Court case are the most severe. Not only will you almost certainly lose driving privileges and have a warrant issued for your arrest, but you will also forfeit the right to request bail. If convicted of failing to appear in Superior Court, the penalties will likely be equal to those of the underlying offense. For fourth degree crimes this can mean up to $10,000 in fines and up to 18 months in prison while third degree or greater offense will have an additional third degree charge added on, which carries the serious consequences of up to $15,000 in fines and 3 to 5 years of time in prison.
If you have missed a court date after being released on bail, this is considered a criminal offense called bail jumping. If the court date you missed was for a third degree crime or greater, than you will be charged with a additional third degree offense. Fail to appear for fourth degree offenses, disorderly persons offenses and petty disorderly persons offenses will constitute a charge of similar degree.
Defense for Failing to Appear
The judge can only convict someone of failing to appear if there is both enough evidence that the person had proper notice of the court date and that the defendant intentionally avoided coming to court. There are valid reasons for missing a court appearance that can be used to defend yourself against a failure to appear charge. For example, the defendant may be able to successfully argue their case if:
- The defendant had not been notified of the date and time of the trial.
- The defendant was seriously ill.
- The defendant was unable to appear due to a natural disaster.
- The defendant had experienced a death in the family.
- The defendant already had a previously scheduled court appearance.
These are all subject to the judge’s discretion.
What Should I Do After Missing a Court Date?
The best course of action for someone who missed a court date is contacting an experienced NJ criminal defense attorney like those at Schneider Freiberger, P.C. We know the best methods of presenting the circumstances surrounding the failure to appear in order to reduce or avoid the potential penalties the court may impose. Missing a court appearance will also likely make the judge go harder on you, but with our help you can present a strong case for the underlying charge in order to increase the chances of getting an acquittal or reduction.