In Massachusetts, you can be in contempt of court for failing to appear (FTA) when ordered and scheduled to appear before any court. The kinds of penalties and legal consequences of not showing up to court depend upon the underlying reason for the scheduled court date, whether you have a history of “skipping out,” and your criminal record, if any.
A failure to appear can result from any court proceeding, including any civil court, family court, bankruptcy court and criminal court matter. For instance, you might receive a subpoena to appear in a lawyer’s office to produce documents and/or other evidence for a discovery conference.
You may be subpoenaed as a witness to a criminal or civil proceeding. In all instances, when you do not show as required, the party affected by your no-show can request that the court sanction or penalize you by entering a failure to appear.
Oftentimes, the court simply wants to compel you to appear. It has a few ways of doing this. One of the more effective tools it has is to notify the Registry of Motor Vehicles, which in turn will suspend your driver’s license.
You will need to appear and/or retain an attorney to deal with the FTA violation before you can restore and renew your license.
The court can also issue a bench warrant for a failure to appear. A bench warrant means the judge, without any other influence, issued the demand for your arrest. In other words, the police or prosecutor did not ask for the warrant.
Failure To Appear Notice –Jury Duty
If you received a failure to appear notice that looks like a postcard from the Office of Jury Commissioner, it’s because you were ordered to report for jury duty and failed to do so.
You can resolve this FTA by contacting the OJC as provided in the notice to explain why you failed to appear and then re-schedule your report date. If you have a qualifying reason for not being able to serve, you should be prepared to give proof so you can be cleared.
Be advised that it can take some time –and persistence, before you are cleared and removed from a jury pool by the OJC.
FTA – Return Date
If you were released on personal recognizance and given a return date to appear — usually for your arraignment –as a result of a misdemeanor charge and you fail to show, you can be sentenced to a fine of up to $10,000 and up to 1 year jail time.
If the FTA is for a felony charge, you can receive up to a $50,000 fine and up to 5 years in state prison as punishment.
Harsh punishment will also apply if you fail to appear on a summons by a Superior Court that is attached to an indictment by the Grand Jury.
Statute of Limitations Many mistakenly believe they can ‘wait it out’ on the statute of limitations for the underlying charge/s or complaint. Do not make this mistake! Once a warrant for failure to appear is issued, it tolls, or stops the clock on any statute of limitations until you are picked up on the warrant.
How to Resolve Your FTA
An experienced local defense lawyer can often negotiate on your behalf with the prosecutor and/or the court so that your surrender includes a plea deal that clears or “removes” the warrant in one fell swoop.
If your FTA is for a minor offense, an attorney can usually file a motion to have the summons set aside and request that a new hearing date be set. The attorney will make it his or her business to ensure that the warrant is cleared.
If the underlying matter is an open case, you’ll need to be prepared to satisfy the original complaint when you appear on the new court date. For an infraction or minor charge, this usually means you will need to pay all fines involved.
Sometimes a probation officer will file a failure to appear if you did not show for an appointment as a condition of probation. Your defense attorney can help you clear this up as well.
If you do not live in Massachusetts, or your underlying offense happened while you were visiting Mass, then you might have found it difficult to return on your date of appearance.
The courts do not care. Judges will not accept living far from the state as an excuse for failing to appear on your scheduled date. This is mainly because in many cases, the accused can hire a local attorney to represent them In absentia.
In absentia means what it sounds like: in the absence of. A local defense lawyer can file motions and make appearances and special requests from the court in your absence, on your behalf.
Even non-residents will face added fines and license suspension for failing to appear. Once your home state sees the license hold or suspension from MA in the database, they will also suspend your DL.
Now you have two state registries to deal with!
If you need assistance clearing an out-of-state FTA and restoring your driving privileges in Massachusetts and your home state, contact Oberhauser Law today. We help clients get their lives back on track sooner and can expedite multi-state license restorations.
If you are having strong doubts about being able to appear as your date approaches, you should err on the side of caution and request an extension or continuance from the clerk’s office. Depending on the court, you should be able to find a local attorney willing to assist you in this for a reasonable fee.
Avoid Serious Consequences
Random plate scanning used by police can readily return an FTA warrant and you will be arrested on the spot. You could be flagged or pulled over for something minor that quickly reveals the outstanding warrant.
It is vital to appear in court, on time, each and every time you are instructed or ordered to do so.
However, if you have a Failure To Appear violation in a local, district or federal court in Massachusetts, I may be able to provide you with assistance. Call soon for a free initial consultation: 978-452-1116.