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Failing to Appear in Court is a Separate Crime in Florida

When a person gets arrested and charged with a crime in Florida, whether for a misdemeanor or felony, that person will likely have multiple, periodic court dates until the case is finally resolved. At each court date, the defendant is told when to appear at his/her next court date. If the defendant fails to appear in court, most people understand that the judge will issue a capias, or warrant, for that person’s arrest.

However, in Florida, willfully failing to appear in court is also a separate criminal charge. If the pending case for which the defendant missed court is a misdemeanor, missing court is also a misdemeanor. If the pending case is any felony, missing court on that case is also a felony.

Prosecutors may use this new charge of missing court as leverage. If the state has a weak case against a defendant but the defendant misses court, the state can add a new charge of willfully missing court that may be much easier to prove and also carries significant potential penalties.

The key to this charge is the state has to prove the defendant willfully missed court. This means the burden is on the state to prove that the defendant knew of the court date and intentionally missed it. Therefore, the state cannot merely prove that the defendant failed to appear in court and get a conviction; the state must prove the failure to appear was intentional. If the defendant missed court by mistake or because of a legitimate reason, the state would not be able to prove its case.

In Duval, Clay and Nassau Counties, some judges allow the criminal defense attorney to appear on behalf of the defendant so that the defendant does not have to appear for each court date. In these cases, the criminal defense lawyer files a waiver of appearance for the defendant, and the criminal defense lawyer appears in court for the defendant. In this situation, the defendant does not have to worry about facing a criminal charge for missing court.