Missing your court date for a criminal case in Tampa, FL is not something to be taken lightly. In most cases, a warrant will be issued for your arrest. If you are currently dealing with this situation, remain calm and reach out to a criminal defense attorney. While having an active warrant for your arrest means law enforcement will be actively searching for you, it does not mean you cannot try to explain your absence and get the warrant lifted. Here is what you need to know about missing court dates in Florida.

Do You Always Go to Jail for Missing a Court Date in Florida?

In Florida, not showing up to a court hearing after posting bail and waiting for your sentence is a separate offense called Failure to Appear. If you were scheduled to appear in court after being charged with a felony or misdemeanor, it is best to do everything you can to show up.

If you miss your court hearing, this will automatically generate a warrant for your arrest and trigger law enforcement to begin searching for you. Unless you are working with an attorney that acts fast and can request that the warrant be lifted, law enforcement can apprehend you and take you to jail for it – which usually happens during a traffic stop.

Is Failure to Appear Considered a Misdemeanor or a Felony In Florida?

Florida Statute 843.15 defines that anyone that was released after posting bail and “willfully fails to appear before any court or judicial officer as required (…) shall be guilty of a felony of the third degree” if the person was released in connection with a charge of felony while awaiting sentence or pending review post-conviction. If the defendant was “released in connection with a charge of misdemeanor”, he or she will be “guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree”.

In other words, if you were charged with a misdemeanor, you can be facing an additional first-degree misdemeanor charge for failure to appear. If you have been charged with a felony crime, you will likely be facing an additional felony failure to appear charge. In both cases, you are looking at additional entries in your criminal record as well as increased jail time, not to mention the forfeiture of any bond money you may have utilized.

What Are Possible Defense Strategies That Can Be Used if a Warrant Is Issued?

Having a warrant issued for your arrest does not mean you will be convicted for failure to appear; however, the issue will not fix itself. Running or hiding will only make it harder for you to reach a favorable outcome. If you know that you have an active warrant after missing a court date, it is highly recommended to contact an attorney right away.

In order to be convicted, there must be enough evidence to show that you willfully failed to be present at your court hearing. This means your attorney may argue you did not receive a notice, or your notice to appear was insufficient or incorrect.

He or she may also show that you had an emergency such as a medical condition that prevented you from being able to come to your hearing. Some failure-to-appear charges are easily resolved by showing proper documentation, others may require more work, but either way, it is best to address the problem rather than ignore it.

How Can a Criminal Defense Attorney Help Me?

Hiding from law enforcement or ignoring your warrant makes you a fugitive from justice, a position that brings you no advantages and will make things harder down the road. At Carson, Meissner, Hart & Hayslett, our seasoned attorneys can work with you to reduce the impact that your failure-to-appear charge may have on your case or try to get the warrant lifted altogether. Each case is different, so contact us to see how we can help.