While there are few legitimate reasons for missing your court date, valid excuses do exist, and courts are generally understanding if you present a good reason for missing your date. Courts in many states cite the only legitimate reasons for missing a court date as “a mistake,” “inadvertence,” “surprise” or “excusable neglect.” Since these terms are somewhat vague, specific definitions and examples can be helpful. A valid reason will save you from getting your bond revoked, going to jail and having to re-post bail. The acceptable reasons apply to missed hearings, as well as in trials by jury or judge.
A surprise that constitutes a legitimate reason to miss your court date indicates events that you could not foresee but that were significant enough to demand your presence elsewhere. You must be able to document these events. For example, you or someone you care for may is hospitalized or have a medical emergency. In this case, you must submit hospital papers to the court. Similarly, a car accident may fall into this category if you can provide photographic evidence or notes from insurance or police.
Inadvertence, which is synonymous with mistake, indicates an innocent accident on your part that does not include ignorance of the law or legal proceedings. Examples include being in the building but going to the wrong court room. Similarly, you may be just a few minutes late, and you checked in with the court clerk. The clerk must provide evidence of this.
Excusable negligence indicates failure to appear in court due to negligence that was not your fault and could not be prevented. Reasons to miss a court date that fall under this category also require documentation. For example, if you are a parent and cannot access childcare during the time of your trial, documentation from your usual childcare provider stating that she could not care for your child at the specific date and time of your court date would appease most courts.
If you miss your court date, it is recommended that you take action in requesting that the court reopen the case within 20 days after the original date. When you attempt to reschedule, it becomes apparent that you are not trying to perpetually avoid your court date, and the court is likely to be more inclined to accept your reason for missing the original date.
If for any reason you can’t make your court date, contact the court coordinator, as well as your bonding company, as soon as you can.
A valid reason for missing a court date may never include not understanding court rules or legal jargon and proceedings.