Missing a court date can happen, whether you had an emergency and couldn’t make it, had to be out of town, were never notified of it, got scared and panicked, or simply forgot.
But Failing to Appear in court when required can cause you serious problems. In most circumstances, there is a warrant out for your arrest right now and are subject to arrest at any time. Failure to return can result in addictions criminal charges of criminal contempt.
When you fail to appear, a warrant will be issued for your arrest in most criminal cases. This can be frightening, particularly if you weren’t intentionally trying to avoid the court date.
“I Made a Mistake Years Ago, and Now I Want to Fix It.”
I get these calls quite a bit. There can be many reasons why a warrant was issued for skipping out on a criminal court date and are unable or unprepared to deal with it for years.
Drug addiction, mental health issues, family or personal drama and stress, or simply poor decision making can lead to the situation where you got yourself into trouble and got a criminal charge, then and you moved out of state or out of the country and tried to ignore it.
I’ve had clients tell me things like “I used to be a screw-up and a mess, but I’ve got my life together in a better place now and it’s time to grow up and move on”.
And when a person’s life gets better, having a driver’s license is often necessary for new job opportunities, travel, and more.
Whatever the reason, wanting to get the warrant removed, and cleared up and getting your license back is a necessary step to returning your life to where you want it to be.
“I Didn’t know I had a warrant until the DMV wouldn’t let me get a driver’s license”
This happens a lot, for people who moved out of Massachusetts. The commonwealth puts that information in national databases, and you will be flagged in other states in circumstances like this.
This can happen if you didn’t have a license for a long time and went to get it reinstated, or even just getting your license renewed and have it unexpectedly flagged and stopped due to a very old incident showing up in the system.
We have a lot of experience in digging into these circumstances. We will have to go to the district court where the warrant and charge were issued, find out what happened, and figure out what we can do to make it go away.
How quickly can I fix a warrant that is preventing me from renewing my driver’s license?
It depends, but sometimes we can get an old warrant for failure to appear fixed in a matter of weeks or less.
We had a recent case of a client from Florida who was a beer salesman and needed his driver’s license to earn a living. He had a warrant for a traffic incident here in Massachusetts that was 15 years old and hadn’t been resolved. Florida found out about the warrant via a multi-state database, and flagged his Florida driver’s license for non-renewal.
As soon as he contacted us, we went to work.
- We contacted the Assistant District Attorney at the Waltham District Court to find out what the incident was that brought out the warrant, and how it could be fixed.
- We determined that it was a very old warrant for an unresolved traffic incident from 15 years earlier for drag racing and failure to stop for a police officer.
- We negotiated a deal in advance for the charge to be dismissed for $200 in court costs, and a single court appearance by our client to formally resolve the matter.
- The client flew up from Florida the next day, we got the warrant removed, and the charges dismissed.
- He returned to Florida and was immediately able to have his license renewed without any impact on his work.
- The entire issue was resolved in less than a week.
Warrant Will Catch Up With You, Even Years Later
Some people are tempted to just ignore the warrant—mistakenly believing the problem will somehow go away or be forgotten about. Trust me when I say, criminal charges are never forgotten in the Massachusetts court system. You are technically a fugitive, and there is no statute of limitations since that is an active crime. It is not uncommon for an old warrant to cause you trouble from literally decades ago, usually when you go to get a license renewed, sometimes after a long time without a license, or sometimes old out of state warrants are spontaneously computerized in nationwide DMV databases.
No, that doesn’t mean police are running around town busting down doors looking for you. If it is a minor issue, they probably aren’t. But any encounter with the cops will result in you being taking in against your will, regardless of the timing.
Just taking your car for a drive could very easily result in you being arrested, handcuffed, and jailed. If there is an outstanding warrant for your arrest, your name is in a database, and if a police cruiser with a license plate scanner picks you up and tags you, you’ll be pulled over and taken into custody. (your driver’s license may also be suspended due to the warrant. )
Because law enforcement will eventually find you if you don’t turn yourself in, it is critical to speak with an attorney as soon as possible about the best way to handle your situation and plan to turn yourself in to the court.
Failure to appear in court – Penalties
Failure to appear in court is a separate crime, in addition to the underlying unresolved offense that lead to this criminal charge.
Penalties for failure to appear in Massachusetts are as follows:
- Failure to appear on a misdemeanor proceeding: Up to 1 year in jail and fines up to $10,000
- Failure to appear on a felony proceeding: Up to 2 1/2 years in prison and fines up to $50,000
That doesn’t mean you are always going to be prosecuted for this offense, and we can often avoid this, but it is a risk.
Again, dealing with it proactively reduced the risk. If they happen to find you and arrest you, your flexibility and options are more limited. So take action today!
Outstanding Warrants – Types of Warrants
The type of warrant issued for failure to appear in court on a criminal charge is a default warrant or a bench warrant. You have defaulted on your conditional release after being charged with a crime and are considered a fugitive from justice. That doesn’t mean that teams of police officers in riot gear are breaking in doors all over town looking for you. But it does mean that
Other types of warrants include probation surrender warrants. If you are on probation, and your probation officer believes you may have violated the terms of your probation, you can also be arrested at any time. A probation surrender warrant could be issued for failing to meet with your probation officer, failing a mandatory drug test, missing required classes for drug or alcohol treatment programs, or anger management, or any other reason your probation officer may deem a violation. (I can also defend clients at probation surrender hearings if this warrant was issued unjustly.)
There could also be a straight warrant for your arrest if you haven’t been to court or charged with a crime, but you are a suspect, and a judge ordered the police to pick you up and arrest you after a criminal complaint or indictment has been issued.
Contempt of Court in Massachusetts
Being charged with contempt may not seem like a major issue. It only results in a small fine. However, if you were out on bail, there’s a good chance the judge won’t give you that benefit again. If the court doesn’t feel like it can trust you to return, you may spend some time in jail awaiting your next court date.
You want to retain as much latitude and freedom as you can if you are dealing with a criminal case, and judges are not cooperative with people they believe are not taking their court appearance responsibilities seriously.
Ref: MGL §276.26
What Should I Do If I Find Out There is a Warrant for My Arrest?
We have a few options to fix an open warrant. I can deal with the courts, and try to smooth things out for your return without any additional consequences.
In some cases, I can repair the situation without you having to re-appear in court, particularly if you are out of state, or out of the country.
Contact me today to discuss the best way of handling any of these situations where you have some difficulties or misunderstanding with the Massachusetts criminal court systems. We can talk about how to go about turning yourself in and what the contempt charge could mean to future court appearances.
Dealing with it proactively, on your terms, is always the best idea. If the police find you – even out of state since warrants can show up electronically – you could be held against your will. And you will lose all negotiating flexibility in fixing the originating problem if the police find you first.
These issues are complicated, and you can’t be expected to figure out and handle all of this on your own. Put your faith in an experienced Massachusetts defense attorney like myself to help fix this issue. I know what it will take to get you free of this mess.
As your attorney, it’s my job to inform you of your options and explain the laws to you. However, you make the ultimate decisions in your case. Call me as soon as possible for a free consultation and some additional details in regards to your failure to appear/outstanding warrant.
Even if it’s been years, you should not put this off any longer. This problem will not go away, and will catch up with you. Call me today.