What Happens if You Miss an Arraignment or Court Appearance in the Commonwealth of Virginia

Court Gavel & Handwriting

You recently forgot your court date. Maybe because you had a medical emergency, a vehicle breakdown, or were just scared of the verdict. You probably know that your actions must have some consequences, but you do not know what they are or how severe they can get. Well, the purpose of this article is to explain what happens if you miss an arraignment or what happens if you fail to appear in court in the state of Virginia.

You Can Be Tried While You are Absent

Firstly, there is a chance of you being tried while you are absent. In this scenario, the normal court preceding will generally take place as it usually does in any other case, except that you will not be there to defend yourself, which might increase the chance of the final ruling being more severe than it would have been if you were there to defend yourself if you are found guilty. To reverse this, one must file an appeal or “a motion to rehear”. The District Courts of the state of Virginia usually require one to file an appeal within ten calendar days. A motion to Rehear the case can be filed within sixty days.

You Will Be Asked to Show a Valid Reason

When you are appealing or filing a motion to rehear, the court might issue you with a "Rule to Show Cause for Contempt of Court". Although this is a misdemeanor summons, and you might not get physically arrested following this issue, you will be asked to explain why you did not appear in court. So, can you go to jail for not appearing in court? Probably yes! For example, if you do not provide a valid and justifiable reason for not appearing, the judge can convict you by imposing a jail time or a fine on the ground of "contempt of court".

You can Be Re-Arrested, Fine and/or Jailed

Nevertheless, suppose you repeatedly do not appear. In that case, a court can issue a warrant of arrest for failure to appear (FTA). This is technically referred to as a "Capias" in the legal profession. It is usually issued in your absence. A warrant of arrest on the basis of FTA usually exposes one to new charges, which might worsen the final verdict in your initial case. What makes it even more worrying is the fact that it can be served to you at your residence, traffic stops or workplace. So, unless you want to alter your reputation significantly, you need to avoid the possibility of this ever happening as much as possible.

It Depends on the Type of Case

In General, the penalties for not appearing in court in the state of Virginia is typically charged under Virginia State Code §19.2-128 as a misdemeanor - specifically, a class 1 misdemeanor. It is usually punishable by up to twelve months of jail. In terms of fines, the amount can go up to $2,500.00.

This, however, worsens in the case of a felony charge. In such a case, the failure to appear in court is charged as a class 6 felony action in Virginia. This is punishable by up to five years of jail and can include a fine amounting to a maximum of $2,500.00.

A failure to appear in court in a felony case can attract other legal severe consequences. For instance, those that had secured a bond can typically have their bond status revoked when they are re-arrested following the issuing of a warrant arrest following the FTA. The person will therefore have to spend days, weeks, and sometimes months in jail awaiting the final ruling of their cases.

However, if you are in a position to provide a valid justifiable reason for your absence, the judge can dismiss the "Rule of Show Cause for Failure to Appear" and set another hearing date and time. This means victory to your file for "a motion to rehear", in which case the initial ruling made in your absence can be revoked and replaced with a new verdict should you present justifiable reasons that can validate the court to alter the initial verdict.

In conclusion, the consequences of failure to appear in court in the Commonwealth of Virginia are severe depending on the case. These consequences range from fines to jail terms and time and resource wastage as one tries to file an appeal or a motion for rehearing. As such, one must try to avoid such a scenario as much as possible unless it is unavoidable. Unreasonable and unjustifiable missing an arraignment or court appearance in Virginia will only make matters worse for anyone. In case of unavoidable circumstances, one should ensure they have enough evidence to present in court to enable them to win a motion of rehearing and avoid being charged with contempt of court.

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