If you have been arrested for a federal felony and released on bail until your trial, you must show up for your scheduled court date, or you can face additional charges.
Like most states, the federal government has laws regarding failure to appear on a felony offense, and you can receive additional prison time and fines on top of the penalties you may receive from the underlying crime. Since failing to appear is a separate charge, you can be convicted of the crime and receive penalties even if your original case was dismissed or you are acquitted of the underlying charges.
If you were charged with a felony originally, the charge for failure to appear would also be a felony, and the penalties you can receive will depend on the seriousness of the crime you are accused of committing.
However, the government does recognize certain defenses against failure to appear, and you need to understand the laws and potential consequences so that you are prepared for what you may face. You will also want to consult an experienced federal criminal defense attorney as soon as possible who can advise you of your rights and help you present an effective defense.
Understanding Federal Failure to Appear on Felony Offense
If you were granted pretrial release, you likely had to pay bail and abide by other conditions of your bond. The most important condition of your pretrial release is that you promised to appear for your trial or any court date you received, which can include your sentencing hearing. Each of the following is a crime under federal law:
- Failing to appear in court as required by your bond conditions
- Failing to surrender to serve your sentence
If you do not appear in court on the scheduled date, the judge assigned to your case will issue a warrant for your arrest.
Penalties for Failure to Appear
Failure to appear is a crime in and of itself. Therefore, you can be prosecuted and convicted of the crime separately from your original offense. The penalties you can receive will depend on the nature and severity of the underlying crime, and the following are possible punishments:
- If the original crime carried a prison sentence of at least 15 years, you could receive an additional ten years in prison, along with fines.
- If the original crime carried a prison sentence of at least five years, you could receive another five years for failure to appear.
- For any other type of felony, you could receive an additional two years in prison and fines.
Furthermore, it is a crime not to show up for court if you are summoned as a material witness, and you can receive up to a year in prison and fines. Incidentally, it is also against the law not to show up for a misdemeanor offense, which can also add another year to any jail time you receive.
Any additional prison sentence you receive for failure to appear will not run concurrently with your sentence for the original charge. Therefore, you will have to complete the entire sentence for both convictions.
Forfeit Your Bond
An additional consequence of failure to appear is that you will forfeit any money or property you put up for your bond. In fact, you will likely have to forfeit your bond if you do not show up for court, whether you are formally charged with failure to appear.
Furthermore, if you were released on personal recognizance and didn't have to pay bail initially, the failure to appear charge will most certainly prompt the court to revisit your pretrial release conditions. As such, the judge may impose conditions on your bond and make you pay bail. They could also increase your original bail amount or revoke your bail entirely, which means you will have to remain incarcerated until your trial.
Defenses for Failure to Appear
But what happens if you have a legitimate reason for not appearing in court? Perhaps you were in the hospital or had some other emergency or serious situation that prevented you from making it to court.
The federal statute regarding failure to appear recognizes “uncontrollable circumstances” as an “affirmative defense.” However, you must not have created or contributed to the circumstances for the specific purpose of avoiding your court date, and you must appear in court as soon as circumstances allow. In other words, you cannot intentionally do something to hurt yourself, so you had to be admitted to the hospital, for instance.
Another key factor in the statute is that you must have “knowingly” avoided your court date. You may have defense options if you can show that your failure to appear was an honest mistake or that you never received a summons to appear in court.
Reach Out to an Experienced Federal Defense Attorney for Help
Facing charges for failure to appear on a felony offense is a serious matter because of the additional penalties you can receive. Also, courts do not look favorably on those who fail to appear for their scheduled court dates, and the incident may ultimately affect the outcome of your underlying case.
Considering all that is at stake, you want to develop the strongest defense possible against the charge, and you want to evaluate all your options for protecting your rights and future. However, you will need an attorney for help.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has many years of experience defending clients against federal failure to appear charges and other offenses. He can evaluate your case, advise you of your options, and help you create a solid defense. He can also represent you for your underlying charge as well as any charge you receive for failure to appear. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or fill out our contact form to request a confidential consultation.