When you have a court date in South Carolina, you are supposed to go to court. The judge expects you to be there, and not showing up can have severe consequences. If you have a court date scheduled, you need to make plans to be there on time. If you have missed a court date, you need to speak with an attorney about the consequences of your failure to appear.
4 Potential Consequences of Failing to Appear in Court
Failure to appear in court can have four primary consequences in South Carolina. The consequences of your failure to appear will depend on the specific circumstances involved and what you do after missing your court date.
1. Your Court Date Gets Rescheduled
It is possible that your court date will get rescheduled. This could happen if you have a legitimate excuse for your failure to appear and proactively address the issue. For example, if you have a true family emergency on the morning of your court date and you ask your attorney to contact the court about rescheduling, you may be able to avoid the other consequences discussed below.
With that said, this outcome is not guaranteed. Additionally, you truly need to have a legitimate excuse for not showing up as expected. If someone else can handle the situation, if you could have planned better to avoid a scheduling conflict, or if you chose not to show up and are now looking for an excuse, the judge will not likely show leniency.
2. You Will Be Found Guilty in Your Absence
If you were charged with a misdemeanor or traffic violation and your court date was scheduled in Municipal or Magistrate Court, missing your court date could result in the judge finding you guilty in your absence. When you have a court date scheduled, the judge is not required to give you a second chance. The judge can (and most likely will) allow your case to proceed, and you can (and most likely will) be found guilty.
This is true whether or not your appearance was mandatory. When you receive a traffic ticket in South Carolina, your ticket will indicate whether a court appearance is required. Even if you are not required to appear in court, proceedings will still occur, and you will still be found guilty if you fail to defend yourself effectively.
3. The Judge Will Issue a Bench Warrant for Your Arrest
The third possibility is that the judge will issue a bench warrant for your arrest. This can happen if you are facing a misdemeanor or felony charge. If the judge issues a bench warrant, the police may attempt to locate you and take you into custody, and then you will be scheduled to appear in front of the judge and explain why you failed to appear.
At this hearing, the judge has two primary options: The judge can rescind the bench warrant based on your explanation, or the judge can issue an order for you to be detained pending trial. This is a serious matter with serious consequences, and you will want to have an experienced attorney explain your reasoning to the judge on your behalf.
4. You Will Be Fined and Imprisoned
If you are out on bail or have been released on your own recognizance, failing to appear in court could lead to fines and prison time. Willfully failing to appear in court following release is a punishable offense under Section 17-15-90 of the South Carolina Code of Laws. You can be fined and imprisoned under Section 17-15-90 even if you aren’t found guilty of the crime you were originally arrested for.
The penalties for failure to appear under Section 17-15-90 depend on whether you were charged with a felony or misdemeanor offense:
- Felony – Up to a $5,000 fine and five years of imprisonment
- Misdemeanor – Up to a $1,000 fine and one year of imprisonment
A key aspect of Section 17-15-90 is that it only imposes these penalties for “willful” violations. As a result, when facing penalties under this statute, it is imperative to show that you did not knowingly and intentionally fail to show up in court.
What Should You Do if You Miss a Court Date in South Carolina?
Given these risks, what should you do if you miss a court date in South Carolina? Most immediately, you should discuss your situation with a criminal defense lawyer. You will need your lawyer to find out what happened in your absence, and then you will need to work with your lawyer to determine what to do next.
Depending on what happened, your lawyer may be able to file a motion to have your case reopened (if you were found guilty), or your lawyer may be able to have your bench warrant lifted. Your lawyer may also be able to contact the prosecutor’s office and work out a resolution to your case. However, this is not something you should try to do on your own—if you do, you may end up getting taken to jail.
When you contact a lawyer, you and your lawyer will go over the options you have available. These options will largely depend on why you failed to appear. Were you unaware that you had a court date? Did you have a family emergency? Did your car break down? Did you decide not to go? These are all different scenarios that require different approaches. Regardless of what happened, you need to take your situation seriously, and you need to do everything you can to avoid unnecessary consequences.
Talk to North Charleston Criminal Defense Lawyer Rad S. Deaton
Did you miss a court date, or are you concerned that you won’t be able to make your court date in North Charleston? If so, you should speak with a lawyer promptly. Call 843-225-5723 or contact us online to speak with North Charleston criminal defense lawyer Rad S. Deaton as soon as possible.