Failure to appear for a scheduled court appearance in Texas is no small matter. In fact, it’s considered a crime and can lead to criminal penalties. Depending on the situation, you may be required to pay only a small fine for missing a court date. However, a judge may issue a bench warrant for a Texas failure to appear, resulting in an added criminal offense. In today’s post, we’re discussing how to navigate the latter situation.
Texas Penalties for Skipping Court and Failure to Appear
When facing criminal charges in Travis County or other regions of Texas, you can post a bond for release or even be released on a verbal commitment to attend future court hearings.
However, whether made after paying a bond or on your own assurance, these commitments mean you must be present for all court events, including hearings, trials, and sentencings. Any deviation or failure to attend can result in a bench warrant, i.e., an order directly from a Travis County judge for your immediate arrest due to your absence. (Tex. Penal Code Ann. §38.10.)
Should police arrest you based on such a warrant, you can be held in jail until the judge schedules a hearing. Moreover, this could also lead to an additional charge: failure to appear. In Travis County, the repercussions for bail jumping or missing a court date vary according to the gravity of the initial criminal charge:
- If the original offense is punishable only by a fine, the failure to appear Texas penalty is a Class C misdemeanor.
- If the original offense was a misdemeanor with potential jail time attached, the failure to appear graduates to a Class A misdemeanor.
- If the primary charge was a felony, the failure to appear charge is a third-degree felony.
For reference, a Class C misdemeanor can result in a fine of up to $500. A Class A misdemeanor could lead to a maximum of a year in jail, a fine of up to $4000, or both. A third-degree felony can incur a prison sentence of two to ten years. Furthermore, failing to attend a jury trial might leave you with the bill for jury panel costs for that day (Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 45.026).
Defending Against Charges of Bail Jumping and Failure to Appear
Texas law provides specific defenses for those charged with failure to appear. For instance, having a “reasonable excuse” such as a medical emergency, the death of a close relative, or not getting an official court notice might protect you from conviction. Another line of defense is proving that commitments related to probation, parole, or a separate jail term in another jurisdiction impeded your appearance.
However, less pressing reasons, such as forgetting the date or a scheduling conflict, are typically unacceptable. The bottom line is that you are expected and required to appear unless there are very clear mitigating circumstances, such as the ones mentioned above.
What to do if You Miss a Court Date or Discover a Bench Warrant
What happens if you’ve missed a court date or learned of a bench warrant in your name in Travis County? The implications can be significant. Police can arrest you almost anywhere – at home, at your workplace, or during social events for a failure to appear in Texas. Moreover, exposure to law enforcement, like during a minor traffic stop, can bring these warrants to light, leading to immediate arrest.
Convictions for bail jumping or failure to appear can have haunting consequences. Not only do they become permanent blemishes on your record, but they can also impact future court procedures or even job and housing applications. Also, these convictions can even be utilized as evidence of guilt in the primary criminal case.
Here are the steps you should take if you find yourself in this situation:
- Confirm the Warrant. Before taking action, verify if there’s indeed a bench warrant against your name by conducting a Texas failure to appear search on county websites or by consulting with a criminal defense attorney. For an active warrant, search the Austin Police Department warrant list HERE. For traffic violations, you can do a failure to appear Texas DPS search HERE.
- Seek Legal Representation. If a bench warrant is issued against you, don’t try to handle it on your own. Engage a seasoned criminal defense attorney in Travis County who has experience in managing such warrants. They will provide guidance on the next steps and ensure your rights are protected.
- Turn Yourself In. While this might sound intimidating, in some cases, voluntarily surrendering can be beneficial. It can convey responsibility and be favorably viewed by the court. Your criminal defense attorney will advise when and how to do this if it’s the recommended course.
- Prepare for the Hearing. After addressing the bench warrant, you’ll likely have a hearing to explain your absence. Working with your defense attorney, gather all necessary documentation or evidence that supports your reason for missing court.
- Pay Any Required Fees or Penalties. In some cases, fines might be associated with issuing a bench warrant. Ensure these are settled promptly to avoid further complications.
- Stay Compliant with Court Orders. To prevent future issues, adhere strictly to all court directives. Keep track of court dates, and if there’s a genuine reason preventing attendance, communicate this to the court in advance through your attorney.
- Address the Underlying Issue. Remember, the bench warrant is a result of another legal matter. Ensure you address the root cause, whether it’s a traffic citation, unpaid fines, or another legal obligation.
When facing failure to appear in Texas legal challenges, such as a bench warrant, it’s crucial to immediately seek guidance from a skilled criminal defense team, like GHC Law Firm in Travis County.
Our experienced Texas defense attorneys can liaise with the court on your behalf, arrange a court appearance without detention, and confidently support you throughout the defense process to ensure your rights are upheld – so you can move on with life.