The Risks of Failure to Appear in Court in New Jersey

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Failed to Appear in Court in Middlesex County NJ?

One of the biggest mistakes that a person can make when it comes to the New Jersey legal system is erroneously believing that they do not have to go to court for a scheduled proceeding. Failure to appear in court in NJ is a very big deal. In many instances, failure to appear can result in a bench warrant being issued. This means that you could soon be headed to jail simply for not showing up to court! Whether your court date involved very serious criminal charges, a DWI offense or other traffic offense, or it was simply a routine parking ticket, you could now be subject to severe consequences for failing to appear. In addition to having a warrant issued for your arrest, other possible consequences of failing to appear in court include suspension of your driver’s license and monetary fines. Worst of all, New Jersey’s new bail reform rules mean that you could be held in detention while waiting for trial. Needless to say, if you did happen to miss your court date, you need to act quickly before things escalate. Your first move should be to talk to a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney who can help you resolve the situation and avoid arrest or, if you’ve already been arrested, avoid further penalties. Contact our Middlesex County criminal defense firm for help from attorneys defending clients against failure to appear, as well as criminal and DUI charges in New Brunswick, Edison, Piscataway, Metuchen, Plainsboro, Woodbridge, East Brunswick, and South Amboy. You can reach us 24/7 by contacting us online or calling (732) 659-9600.

To learn more about what happens when a defendant in a criminal or traffic matter fails to appear in court in New Jersey, keep reading.

What Are the Requirements for Court Appearances?

First, it’s important to recognize that most legal matters involve more than just the actual trial date. In many cases, the defendant or their lawyer may be required to show up to court for an initial arraignment at which they enter a plea, a status conference at which certain pre-trial issues are resolved, a trial in either Municipal Court or Superior Court where a judge or jury will listen to arguments from the parties and then render a verdict, and a sentencing hearing at which the judge will impose sentence. If the defendant fails to appear for any of these proceedings on the scheduled date and time, they could be in a world of trouble. New Jersey Court Rule 7:8-9 gives judges the authority to take extreme action when a defendant does not show up.

What Happens When You Fail to Appear in Court?

The punitive options available to the judge when a defendant fails to show up for their criminal or traffic proceeding vary, depending on exactly where the case is being adjudicated: Municipal Court or Superior Court.

Missing a Court Date in Municipal Court

When a person is charged with a comparably minor criminal offense (i.e., a disorderly persons offense or misdemeanor), the case is handled in the Municipal Court located in the city or town where the offense allegedly occurred. The same is true for all traffic and parking violations, including DWI offenses (which are technically considered traffic offenses). The legal process for cases at the Municipal Court level is fairly straightforward. The local prosecutor decides to file charges, and the case is ultimately decided by the Municipal Court judge in a bench trial because there are no jury trials for disorderly persons offenses or traffic offenses. The penalties in these cases are limited, with criminal charges carrying a maximum penalty of six (6) months in jail. With help from an experienced criminal attorney, most cases can be resolved with no jail time at all, possibly through probation, a diversion program like conditional discharge or conditional dismissal, getting the charges downgraded, or raising a defense that results in a dismissal.

Despite the fact that most charges – whether for criminal matters or traffic offenses – do not result in incarceration, it is still very possible that you will be arrested and face detention if you fail to appear in Municipal Court for a scheduled proceeding. The options available to the judge will depend on the type of charges you face:

  • Parking Tickets: If you were cited for a parking ticket and subsequently failed to appear for a mandatory court date, the judge will order that a “failure to appear notice” be mailed to you. This notice is similar to a summons. You will be required to show up for your next court date. By law, a defendant who fails to show up for two court dates involving parking tickets will be subject to a bench warrant, at the judge’s discretion. In other words, if you continue to ignore failure to appear notices, you could end up being arrested over parking tickets.
  • Traffic Offenses & DWI Offenses: In motor vehicle cases that do not involve a parking ticket, the judge will have the option to either issue a bench warrant for your arrest or merely have a failure to appear notice mailed to you. If the judge opts to have the form mailed to you, you will then need to show up for your next court date or risk a bench warrant being issued for your arrest. Additionally, when a bench warrant is issued in a traffic matter, the court can suspend your driver’s license until the case has been resolved.
  • Disorderly Persons Offenses: Disorderly persons offenses, or low-level criminal matters, are usually the most serious charges handled at the Municipal Court level. If you fail to appear for a court proceeding involving disorderly persons charges, the judge may issue a bench warrant. This would potentially allow the police to come to your home or workplace and place you under arrest. The judge can also suspend your driver’s license to prevent you from operating a motor vehicle while your charges are still pending.

It is also worth noting that, in all cases, the judge may impose monetary penalties against you for failing to appear in court. The maximum fine is typically $100 for criminal cases, $50 for traffic matters, and $25 for parking tickets. However, if the judge rules that your failure to appear constitutes Contempt of Court, they may impose a higher fine.

Missing an Appearance in Superior Court

Serious criminal charges, classified as indictable offenses (i.e., felonies), are sent to the Superior Court located in the county where the offense allegedly occurred. Before a person can be formally charged in Superior Court, the county prosecutor must first bring the case before a grand jury and secure an indictment. Once an indictment has been issued, the case is then scheduled for trial before either a judge or jury in the Superior Court. The penalties in these cases are harsh, and can include mandatory prison time, depending on the type of charges and the circumstances of the particular case.

If a defendant fails to show up for any of their scheduled criminal proceedings in Superior Court, the judge is likely to issue a bench warrant for the defendant’s arrest. This is in addition to any other consequences, such as suspension of the defendant’s driving privileges and monetary fines. Also, keep in mind that NJ criminal justice reform basically eliminated money bail as a way to get out of jail in criminal cases, which means that the judge in your case could decide to order you to remain in detention until your trial. If the prosecutor files a motion for detention, and if the judge agrees that you pose a significant risk for failure to appear in the future, you could be stuck in jail before you even have a chance to defend yourself against the charges.

How to Handle Failure to Appear in Court in New Brunswick

Anyone subject to charges for failure to appear needs to get in touch with a lawyer and handle the situation right away. There are instances when the judge has waived the defendant’s appearance, only to later mistakenly issue a bench warrant when the defendant doesn’t show up to court. If something like this happened to you, an experienced criminal defense lawyer can help you gather supporting evidence and make your case to the judge so that you avoid arrest and detention. It might also be possible for a skilled attorney to persuade the judge to simply reschedule the case rather than issue a warrant for your arrest, particularly if you missed court due to a medical emergency that required hospitalization.

Failed to Show up for Court? Talk to an Edison, NJ Defense Lawyer Right Away

The criminal defense lawyers on our team can help you resolve an outstanding warrant for failing to appear in court and any other charges you may face in Middlesex County, including simple assaultaggravated assaultheroin possessionresisting arresteluding policedisorderly conductcocaine distributionburglary, and unlawful possession of a weapon. Call (732) 659-9600 for immediate assistance and a free consultation.

With more than a decade of experience defending clients against criminal charges, founding partner William A. Proetta has successfully handled and tried thousands of cases, from DWI to murder. As a New Jersey native, he has focused his career on helping people in the area where he grew up, serving Middlesex, Ocean, Hudson, and Union counties.