If you failed to appear in court, some important strategies must be used to give you the best chance of avoiding incarceration. An experienced lawyer gives you the best hope of getting your situation back on track.
There can be many reasons why someone charged with a felony or misdemeanor fails to appear in court. Unless the judge is satisfied that there is a satisfactory, verified reason for the failure to appear, the court will issue a warrant for the defendant’s arrest. The defendant may have skipped court intentionally or forgotten about the hearing date. On the other hand, his or her car could have broken down, notice of the hearing may not have been received, or that person could have been in the hospital with an illness.
I missed a court date, so now what?
When a person fails to appear in court, the court will issue a warrant for that person’s arrest; not just sometimes, every time. This type of warrant is called a bench warrant. If a bond has been previously posted, the judge will order the bond be forfeited (taken by the court). These warrants never go away by themselves. The ONLY way you should deal with an outstanding warrant for failure to appear is with a respected, highly experienced criminal defense lawyer. Do not be conned into believing that your divorce, tax, real estate, or probate lawyer is capable of providing you the same results as an expert criminal defense lawyer. Why? Because lawyers who exclusively practice criminal defense will know the most persuasive arguments and will be most familiar with how to navigate through the court under the circumstances. The most effective techniques used for real estate law, family law, and probate are not the same as those in criminal cases. The rules are also very different. It takes decades of specialization to master every trick of the trade.
Why would I need a lawyer if I turn myself in on a warrant?
If you retain a reputable, respected criminal defense lawyer, he or she can immediately file an “Appearance” on your behalf with the court. Your lawyer can do this literally within a few minutes by fax after being retained. This will tell the judge at least two things: you respect the court, and you intend to appear in court voluntarily. You will still have to appear in court to be arraigned on the warrant, but the judge will have a completely different perspective on you. You should understand that court-appointed lawyers are generally not provided when the defendant appears before the court on a bench warrant.
Assuming the defendant hires a highly experienced lawyer, the attorney will know what needs to be done to give the defendant the best chance of remaining out of jail and on bond. For example, a motion can be made to have a forfeited bond reinstated. With the right lawyer, you may not even have to be arrested on the warrant. There are many factors a judge must consider when setting a bond, and a retained criminal defense attorney will prepare in advance so that the most powerful and persuasive argument can be made on the defendant’s behalf.
Does it matter if I wait to go back to court?
The length of time it takes for the defendant to surrender on a bond can be a factor the court considers. A long time between when the warrant issued and when the defendant appears in court can be cause for a high bond. If the defendant retains counsel and goes back to court quickly, the court is more likely to find that the failure to appear was inadvertent, accidental, or because of a momentary lapse of judgment.
What happens when we get to court?
When you walk into court, your criminal defense lawyer will explain the circumstances in terms the judge understands from a legal perspective. A seasoned lawyer has the best chance of providing an acceptable explanation. If the lawyer is successful, the judge will cancel the warrant, reinstate the forfeited bond, and set a new court date. A general practice or bargain lawyer will likely make a poor argument in favor of keeping their client out of jail. Without a top attorney, the odds are higher that the defendant will have to post a large amount of money to remain out on bond, or that person will simply be retained in custody until the case is concluded.
What if I’m arrested on the warrant?
If you are caught with an open warrant, you will be arrested and taken to court in handcuffs. With a pending warrant, any time you leave your house, you could be arrested. Even if you don’t leave your house, you may get a knock on the door (or the door kicked in), and you could be arrested and hauled off to court. Appearing before a court in handcuffs, as opposed to voluntarily surrendering with a lawyer, usually results in a bond that requires a cash deposit with the court. A bond requiring that money be deposited with the court is called a cash bond.
If someone has been arrested, all is not lost, and it is not too late to hire counsel. A skilled and talented lawyer may be able to provide a reasonable explanation for the defendant’s failure to appear in court and assure the judge that the defendant will appear in court in the future. Appearing voluntarily is best.
Can I just wait until the warrant expires?
It is a myth that warrants expire. Once issued, a warrant remains in the Law Enforcement Information Network (LEIN) forever. The sooner you deal with it, the better.
Lawyers who can protect you if you have missed a court date and have a warrant.
The Defense Team at LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. have decades of experience in successfully having warrants recalled and freeing clients from jail. The judges in southeast Michigan and throughout Michigan know our firm and have respect for it because we are in court daily and judges have seen the level of professionalism and compassion we embody. Our dedicated, experienced attorneys have successfully represented thousands of clients on felony and misdemeanor charges in Oakland, Macomb, Wayne, Washtenaw, and Livingston Counties and throughout Michigan. We have a well-deserved reputation for providing the highest quality defense and aggressive representation. Call us today at (248) 263-6800 or complete a Request for Assistance Form and we will contact you promptly.