Failure to appear at a required court date in South Carolina can have immediate and severe consequences, and will usually result in a bench warrant being issued the same day.
If you have been charged with a crime in South Carolina, you must understand the consequences for missing a court date, which, in addition to a bench warrant for your arrest, could include contempt of court, bond revocation, and even additional criminal charges for failure to appear.
In this article, we will cover the basic information you need to know, including:
- What failure to appear means,
- How to avoid bench warrants for failure to appear,
- What to do if you miss a court date, and
- The potential consequences and penalties for failure to appear in court in South Carolina.
What Does Failure to Appear in Court Mean?
“Failure to appear” is when you have a mandatory court date, you haven’t been excused from appearing at the court date, and you don’t show up.
Maybe you have a valid excuse for not being there, but, if you did not confirm that you were excused before the court date, a bench warrant will most likely be issued for your arrest, and there could be further consequences including bond revocation, contempt of court, or criminal charges for failure to appear.
How to Avoid Failure to Appear/Bench Warrants
If you are out on bond and you want to stay out of jail while your case is pending, you should take care to make all required court appearances unless your attorney has confirmed that you are excused from appearing.
You can avoid the consequences of failing to appear by:
- Retaining an attorney immediately (or contacting the public defender’s office immediately if you cannot afford an attorney),
- Ensuring that your attorney has copies of all paperwork in your case and the dates of your court appearances,
- Staying in touch with your attorney and making sure they know how to reach you when necessary,
- Calendaring all court appearances immediately and setting up reminders,
- Ensuring that a family member or friend also knows the dates you must appear so they can remind you,
- Letting your attorney know well in advance when you have a conflict that would prevent you from appearing at a court date, and
- Making arrangements to show up at every court appearance, regardless of the inconvenience, unless your attorney has confirmed that you are excused.
What to Do if You Miss a Court Date
If you know in advance that you cannot make a court appearance, let your attorney know immediately and assume that you must be there until your attorney confirms that you have been excused.
But what if you have already missed a court date? Do you have a bench warrant? What should you do now?
First, contact your attorney – let them know what happened, and let them investigate whether there is a bench warrant for your arrest or other consequences for missing the court date.
In some cases, your attorney may be able to avoid a bench warrant by scheduling a new appearance where the prosecutor can “lay eyes on you.” In other cases, your attorney may be able to file a motion to lift the bench warrant and schedule a hearing before you are picked up by the sheriff’s office.
If you appear at the hearing with counsel and a reasonable explanation, the court may lift the bench warrant and you may avoid jail time for the failure to appear.
How Do I Find Out if I Have a Bench Warrant?
If you have missed a court date and you think there may be a bench warrant for your arrest, call your attorney immediately.
If you haven’t yet retained an attorney or met with a public defender, call an experienced criminal defense lawyer immediately.
If you attempt to contact the sheriff’s office to ask if they have a bench warrant for your arrest, they may not tell you the truth. If there is a bench warrant, their job is to take you into custody, and they do not want to “tip you off” and allow you to evade arrest.
If your attorney contacts the sheriff’s office on your behalf, however, they are more likely to provide accurate information because 1) your attorney might make arrangements for you to turn yourself in, or 2) your attorney will immediately contact the court and file a motion to have your bench warrant lifted.
Penalties for Failure to Appear in South Carolina
In most cases, the consequences for failure to appear will be limited to a bench warrant for your arrest, but there are other potential consequences including contempt of court proceedings, revocation of your bond, and even separate criminal charges for failure to appear.
As we discussed above, the first and immediate consequence for failing to appear at your court date is a bench warrant for your arrest.
If you are taken into custody on a bench warrant, you will remain in jail until a hearing is scheduled on a motion to lift the bench warrant, which could take weeks or even months depending on your location and the circumstances.
Contempt of Court
The court could hold you in contempt for failing to appear in violation of a court order, resulting in fines or jail time.
In some cases, the prosecutor might ask the court to revoke your bond, requiring you to remain in jail until your case is resolved.
Criminal Charges for Failure to Appear
South Carolina Code § 17-15-90 makes willful failure to appear a separate crime:
- If the underlying charge is a felony or the defendant was awaiting sentence after a conviction, failure to appear can result in a $5,000 fine, up to five years in prison, or both, and
- If the underlying charge is a misdemeanor that carries up to one year in prison, failure to appear can result in a $1,000 fine, up to one year in prison, or both.
Questions About Failure to Appear in South Carolina?
If you have missed a court date or believe there is a bench warrant for your arrest, get help from an experienced South Carolina criminal defense lawyer immediately – before you contact the police, clerk of court, or prosecutor’s office.
The criminal defense lawyers at the Seaton Law Office will first help you to get your bench warrant lifted if possible, and then investigate the allegations, answer your questions, and do everything legally and ethically possible to get your case dismissed, win your case at trial, or find a resolution that is fair and reasonable.
Call 843-761-3840 or use this form to contact us today to discuss your case and start working towards the best possible outcome for you.
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