Most people know to listen to a judge. After all, he or she has the ability to change the trajectory of your life whether you are involved in a civil case or you have been arrested for any number of crimes outlined in the New York Penal Law. In the criminal context, when you miss your court date, an arraignment for a Desk Appearance Ticket, a scheduled compliance date, a calendar call for an update, or any other appearance on a misdemeanor or felony crime, the judge hearing your case will more than likely issue a bench warrant barring some corroborated reason why you could not be present. As your criminal defense lawyer will (and should have already) tell you, once the judge orders or issues a bench warrant the police are authorized to arrest you. Complicating matters, if you are outside the State of New York, you may be held without bail until a detective returns you on a “Governor’s Warrant.” Could you sit there for a week, two, more? Sadly, yes.
Outside of the simple fact that you do not want a warrant issued and the police looking to arrest you and return you to court, the consequences of skipping your court date don’t end with a warrant. In fact, depending on how long you are out and about and fail to return, prosecutors in the District Attorney’s Office can hit you with a brand new charge…Bail Jumping.
One of the scariest things about a Bail Jumping charged in New York is that it can stand even if your original case is ultimately dismissed. Further, the time can be consecutive. This means it would be added on to the sentence you receive on the case that you missed your appearance and warranted. While there are felony Bail Jumping crimes including PL 215.57 and PL 215.56, this blog entry will address the least serious, relatively speaking, of the Bail Jumping offenses, Third Degree Bail Jumping pursuant to New York Penal Law 215.55.
In any Bail Jumping prosecution, the key number is thirty. That is, if you are released whether on bail or your own recognizance, and you do not appear on your court date or voluntarily over the next thirty days then you have violated NY PL 215.55. The other key number is 365. Why? If you are convicted of the misdemeanor Bail Jumping a judge can sentence you for up to one year in jail. If you are charged with and convicted of a felony Bail Jumping crime then your exposure to State prison is significantly greater.
Bail Jumping is an offense prosecutors often use to persuade a person who warranted to plead guilty upon return because if he or she is unwilling to do so, then the District Attorney will pursue the additional Bail Jumping charges to throw on top of the underlying crime. While the test for Bail Jumping is somewhat strict liability because voluntarily not appearing is squarely in the law’s definition, mere failure to appear does not automatically put the nail in your proverbial coffin.
If you did not voluntarily excuse yourself – you were incarcerated on another matter, hospitalized, etc., you may have a strong defense to the crime. The next question might be what is your corroboration, should law enforcement or prosecutors have known where you were and failed to get you, and did you reasonably make efforts or in fact attempt to return? All of these factors should be considered by both you and the criminal lawyer of your choice who is representing you in your cases.
In sum, go to court or be prepared to present a convincing reason why you cannot appear through your attorney so he or she can seek to have your warrant stayed (not issued). If a warrant is issued, voluntarily return yourself within the thirty day period and do so with counsel. If there is any icing on the failure to appear, bench warrant, Bail Jumping cake, if your first appearance is for a Desk Appearance Ticket and you fail to show up a bench warrant will likely be issued unless your attorney can avoid it. However, you can never be convicted of Bail Jumping. Why? Its called Failing to Respond to an Appearance Ticket and that icing I mentioned? Well, its a little more bitter than sweet.
Before making a potentially devastating and ill advised decision to miss your court date, consult with your attorney so he or she can protect you from the consequences of your actions. Overseas, out of state, sick? Do your best to educate yourself on the law before being stuck with the wrong decision.
Crotty Saland PC is a New York criminal defense law firm founded by two former Manhattan Assistant District Attorneys. Crotty Saland PC’s New York criminal defense lawyers represent those accused of crimes throughout the New York City and suburban region.