If trouble has found you and you’ve been ordered to appear in court for any reason, then in almost all circumstances your attendance is mandatory, not optional. Regardless of the situation, failure to show up for your court date will only increase your legal troubles, and it’s possible that you’ll have additional charges brought against you, compounding an already bad situation. It’s better not to need an excuse for failure to appear to a court date and doing so will make it more difficult to extricate yourself from a legal mess, If at all possible, please attend your court dates. That said, if life has thrown you a curveball and you were unable to make it, you’ll need a valid, documented and lawful excuse for missing a court date.
Do not take a notice to appear in court lightly
You can be handed a court date for all sorts of things – being charged with a crime, getting a speeding ticket, family law issues, a bankruptcy, a civil matter, or even as a witness. Some matters, like criminal charges for instance, typically require multiple court dates (arraignment, pre-trial hearing, the actual trial, and sentencing), all of which require that you appear.
Failure to appear is taken very seriously by the courts because it is a disregard for the process of the courts. Generally, a court hearing requires a judge, a clerk and all parties involved to be present, so missing the date wastes the courts time and money. It is often also a breach of probation which is a serious offence. You can be convicted for failing to appear unless you provide a valid excuse for missing court.
Be very careful about missing any court dates, as intentional or avoidable failure to appear will likely mean another charge is added and a bench warrant issued for your arrest. This is not a situation you want to find yourself in as not only can these charges add to your legal troubles, but they can also lead to your immediate arrest by a police officer. For example, if there is a bench warrant issued for your failing to appear, getting pulled over in a traffic stop can lead to you spending the night (or longer) in jail.
Also, even if you aren’t arrested, having a failure to appear on your record can make the difference between losing and winning your case. It’s vital that you show up for your court dates, but if something happens you may be able to provide an excuse to get you out of the extra penalties – keep reading.
*As a caveat, we’re dealing with the law here, the definitions or interpretations of which can differ from state to state or country to country. As such, this article is intended for a loose guideline about the matter and will provide some potential best excuses for missing a court date that you can use. It is highly recommended to speak with your lawyer or other certified, professional legal council before taking action to undo any extra damage that may have been done. This article is meant to be regarded as legal advice in any way shape or form.
Valid excuses for failing to appear in court
Unfortunately, there aren’t many good reasons for missing a court date, and it can be extremely difficult to excuse your way out of additional charges or penalties. In the majority of cases the judge will not accept 99% of the reasons people provide for missing a court appearance, but sometimes a few excuses may be taken into consideration. It’s important that your reasons for missing trial indicate that; you did not miss a court date on purpose, you did not intend to evade the court by failing to appear, and you did your due diligence in trying to appear before the courts.
We’re sorry this list of excuses for failing to appear isn’t longer, but it’s important that you realize a missing a court date is treated very seriously by the legal system.
1. Missing your court date due to lack of notice
Likely the most common excuse for failure to appear that you can use revolves around not being properly notified of your court date. This means that you didn’t know you were meant to be in court on a specific date, because you weren’t notified within a reasonable timeframe. Sometimes, clerical error by the courts can mean you didn’t receive notice of your court date – which is an ideal excuse. Likewise, a mail delivery failure, or your attorney failing to inform you can have the same result. These could all be potentially valid excuses, but you’ll need documented proof, and it will be up to the judge to decide. An address change is not a valid excuse, as it is your responsibility to inform the courts where you can be reached via mail.
2. You experienced a health emergency
A health emergency is a valid excuse for missing trial but make sure you have medical documents to backup your claim. Having the sniffles or a cold is not a good excuse, but hospitalization or a severe illness that prevents you from safely attending court may be considered adequate. The judge will take your situation and supporting documents into account before making a decision. If possible, let the court know you are unable to attend before trial, or at least as soon as possible.
3. You were detained by a family emergency
Similar to a health emergency, a serious family issue could be valid grounds for missing your court date. The specifics will vary from case to case, but things like a seriously ill child or family member that you care for, a death in your immediate family, an accident requiring hospitalization etc. may be enough. You will be required to prove your excuse with relevant documentation, and it will be up to the judge to decide how to proceed.
4. You’ve been admitted to an inpatient drug rehab or detox facility
You’re voluntarily, or involuntarily trying to get yourself better. Enrolling in this type of facility will likely mean you won’t be able to leave for a period of time and could subsequently miss a court date. The court may accept this as a good excuse for missing a court date if proper documentation is provided.
5. A vehicle accident occurred
If you were involved in a car accident on your way to court, this can be a valid excuse for failing to appear. It is illegal to leave the scene of an accident, and with documented proof of the accident, you’ll be able to delay your court case without penalty.
6. An act of God or force majeure event
This term can encompass a whole list of reasons for why you couldn’t attend a court date including things like severe weather, flooding, a fire emergency, or even something like an access roadway suffering damage and blocking access to the courthouse. Of course, this type of reason also requires proof and will be subject to the court’s discretion.
7. Your legal representation has withdrawn
It does happen, where your legal counsel who has been working on your case, stops representing you at the last minute. You are entitled the right to counsel and as such, this is a valid excuse for missing a trial date. Keep in mind, there is a specific time limit associated with these types of service withdrawals, so if your lawyer has given adequate notice, it’s usually deemed your responsibility to find new counsel before your scheduled court date. You must also contact the court as soon as possible to explain what happened.
Excuses not to use for failure to appear
If there’s one thing no judge wants to hear its excuses for missing a court date. Court appearances are scheduled well in advance of the actual date, and it’s your responsibility to adjust your schedule accordingly. It’s often better to not even offer an excuse (unless it’s one listed above) and simply apologize, throwing yourself at the mercy of the judge. Under all circumstances, do not attempt to provide any of the following excuses as they will almost certainly not be accepted.
1. Work or school got in the way of attending court
Being stuck at work or school, no matter how important the reasons, are not valid excuses for missing a court date. Court dates are set in advance with ample time given for defendants to arrange their schedules accordingly, and that’s what judges expect. Legal matters take precedence, and you’ll seem like you didn’t think the courts time was valuable as a result of giving this excuse.
2. You forgot about the court date
We get it, life is busy, and things fall by the wayside, but just make sure your court date isn’t one of them. Your forgetfulness or lack of a calendar is one of the worst excuses for missing a court date and will just make you look unreliable in the court’s eyes. If this is your reason, then it’s better to save it and keep your mouth shut. You could however use it as an excuse for leaving work early.
3. You were switching addresses and didn’t get a notification letter
We touched on this earlier, but a change of address isn’t a useable excuse for missing a court date. You are required to inform the court of any address change so you can be contacted properly. Failure to do so is all on you and judges won’t give any leniency for this excuse.
4. You suffer from anxiety
Right up there with the worst excuses you can use for missing trial is anxiety. It’s not that judges don’t care about you, but who isn’t anxious or nervous before a court date. Unless your anxiety triggered a documentable medical emergency, there’s no way you should be using being nervous as an excuse.
5. Minor to moderate illness
A cough or cold is not enough to get you out of your court date. It’s understandable that appearing in court is one of the last things you’d want to do while sick, but the courts time is not to be wasted, and your failing to show will be seen as you doing just that.
6. Doctor, dentist, or other professional appointments
An appointment with a medical professional is just as inadmissible an excuse as getting stuck at work or school. Your court date will have been scheduled in advance to provide you with enough time to align your schedule, making this an invalid excuse for failing to appear in court. If you do have a scheduling conflict that cannot be changed, it’s important that you notify and make a request for continuance with the courts as soon as possible. It’s up to them to change your court date, and if they don’t, you’ll be expected to show up.
7. You didn’t feel like attending
You’d have to be a real numbskull to think this excuse would have any chance of working in court. More likely, such an outrageous excuse will show you don’t value the courts time, aren’t taking the proceedings seriously, and that you’re probably lacking in the character department. We know court sucks, but please, don’t put yourself behind the 8-ball with an excuse like this.
8. You’re innocent so why should you go to court
While it may very well be that you’re innocent of the charges brought against you, it’s necessary that you show up to all court dates. Trial is how your innocence is proven, and that can’t happen if you aren’t present. Suck it up, attend trial, and let due process clear your name.
9. You had a social gathering to attend
Last on our list, but certainly not the least effective in terms of pissing off the judge is using the excuse of “I had something better to do”. You know it’s bad, and we don’t think anyone would use it, but we felt the need to mention it just in case.
What else you might need to know
- Sometimes the nature of a court event may not require a specific reason to have the date rescheduled. Things like a case status conference, or a motion hearing may fall into this category, provided that a continuance would not affect another party adversely. Courts generally do not favor a continuance in any case, but they do often grant a rescheduled court date for excusable circumstances.
- The timing of your request for a continuance will also play a factor in whether it will be granted or not. Courts often specify how close to your court date a continuance may be granted, but it’s always worth asking if you think you’re at risk of being unavailable.
- It is always up to you or your attorney to arrange a continuance, and it is best to do so within the rules/guidelines of the court system. You can speak with your attorney or the courts directly to find out what you need to do.
- If you are unable to attend a court date for any reason (lawful excuses included), your attorney or legal representative will need to show up in your place to avoid penalties and a bench warrant. You may also be able to send an agent on your behalf, such as a family member to explain why you’re not there yourself. Accidents happen and having an attorney or agent attend in your stead can go a long way to showing that you are taking the case seriously and you did not intentionally fail to appear.
What to do if you’ve missed a court date
Missing a court date is never a good thing but it does happen. If you’re absent, the judge will likely issue a bench warrant for your arrest to help compel you to appear before a judge. Missing a court date can result in fines, license suspensions, your bail getting revoked, a bench warrant being issued and jail time for being in contempt of court.
If you’ve already missed your date, then you must speak (call, email, write) to your attorney or the courts about the reasons you didn’t show up and provide any associated or relevant documentation. Do this quickly, because the longer you wait, the less likely a judge will be to take your reasons into consideration. A new court date will be scheduled, often with extra charges added, but at least you’ll be dealing with the matter correctly.
Without a valid reason for missing court, you are subject to a bench warrant, being held in jail until trial, having your bail conditions increased, monetary fines and other penalties.
What to do if you’ve been charged with failure to appear
If you have had this additional charge added to your docket, you should consult with your attorney immediately. Offer any excuses or reasons as to why you missed court and ask them to advocate on your behalf. It will be up to the courts to decide how to proceed.
If you are aware that you have been charged and a bench warrant has been issued, it’s a good idea to be proactive in handling the situation. This may mean contacting the courts or turning yourself in at a police station to try and clear up the warrant without spending time in jail. If you do decide to turn yourself in, keep in mind that you may be arrested and detained, so make sure you have everything you might need, like important phone numbers of your lawyer and family with you.
How to communicate with the court about hearing dates
It’s common that a court date falls on a day when you won’t easily be able to attend. In this scenario, you or your attorney will need to formally make a Request for Continuance to have your court date rescheduled. You’ll need to provide the reason why, with accompanying documentation, and wait for the court to decide whether to gran your request.
If an emergency happens and you are unable to attend, it’s important that you notify the court as quickly as you can. Usually, your best bet is to phone your legal representation or the court clerk to pass on the information. Explain why you cannot attend on the phone but understand that you will be required to provide documented evidence once you are able.
If it is not possible to phone the court, your legal representation will need to appear before the court to explain why you weren’t able to attend.
Be aware, that no matter which communication method you use, you’ll be required to provide proof of your emergency and any action will be at the court’s discretion. You may also be required to attend an additional hearing with a judge to decide how to proceed.
Do not ignore a missed court date
Ignoring this problem will not make it go away and things wont just resolve themselves. Missing a court date leads to more problems and additional charges, so you’ll really want to do everything you can to show up yourself, send your attorney, or have an agent present on your behalf.
If you do miss your court date, refer back to our list of lawful excuses for missing a court date section and see if any apply. Otherwise, consult an attorney for more information about what steps you need to take next.
*This article is meant to be regarded as legal advice in any way shape or form.