You may believe that failing to appear in court after you have been released on bail simply means that you will forfeit bond. However, bail jumping can be charged as a separate crime in both state and federal courts. As a result, a defendant who fails to appear in court will continue to face their original charge, may forfeit bond, and may face a separate bail jumping charge. Being innocent of the underlying charge for which you failed to appear is not a defense to the bail jumping charge.
Sometimes bail jumping will be charged only if a defendant fails to surrender within a certain period of time after forfeiting bond, such as 30 days. In other states, it may be charged only if the defendant is facing an underlying charge that is classified as a felony. Bail jumping may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony in some states, depending on whether the underlying charge is a misdemeanor or a felony. Even if you showed up at your first court appearance, you can be charged with bail jumping if you miss subsequent court appearances.
Excuses for Missing a Court Appearance
A bail jumping charge usually requires the prosecution to prove that the defendant failed to appear intentionally. This means that they were aware of the court appearance. In other words, a defendant may be able to defeat the charge if they can show that they did not have proper notice of the court date. Sometimes notice can be conveyed through the language of the bond, which may include the date of the first court appearance. Notice also may involve mailing a letter to the defendant.
Sometimes a defendant can establish a valid excuse for failing to appear in court if circumstances outside their control prevented them from appearing. They even may have an excuse for failing to surrender within the required period, although this can be more challenging. Judges have substantial discretion in determining whether an excuse is sufficient to defeat a bail jumping charge. If the defendant was drunk or using drugs, this may not be enough to persuade the court. Intoxication generally is thought to be a decision within a defendant’s control. If a defendant can show that they were seriously ill, this may be a valid defense, but they will need to provide strong evidence of their illness. The illness may need to be so severe that the defendant was hospitalized or was otherwise physically unable to appear. Sometimes being incarcerated in a different state will be a sufficient excuse, although this does not always succeed.
You should consult an attorney if you have failed to appear at a court date and are worried about being charged with bail jumping or facing other consequences. The laws in this area vary depending on the state, and different judges may take different approaches to a defendant who fails to appear. An attorney can advise you on whether you may be able to avoid a charge by surrendering within a certain time. They also can help you present evidence supporting your excuse for failing to appear.