You are probably aware that if you don't appear for a court date in a criminal case, the judge may issue a bench warrant for your arrest, and that if you are picked up by police based on that bench warrant, you can face jail time and other penalties. However, not many people are aware that in Las Vegas, if you don't show up for your court date in any criminal case, in addition to any "contempt of court" consequences you might face, you can also be charged with the separate crime of "failure to appear." Below, read about the charge of criminal failure to appear and learn about how a criminal defense attorney can help you if you are facing prosecution for this offense.
NRS 199.335 is the statute that makes failure to appear a crime. This is a state law that applies in Las Vegas and throughout Nevada. According to this statute, it is a crime to fail to appear for a court date in any criminal case if the defendant is "admitted to bail, whether provided by deposit or surety, or released without bail." This means that whether a person has secured his release pending trial by paying a bondsman or depositing the cash bail himself, or has been released on his own recognizance without paying any bail, it is a criminal offense to fail to appear "at the time and place required" by the judge's order.
According to NRS 199.335, there is one way to avoid criminal liability for this offense. Specifically, a person who fails to appear for a court date as outlined above is guilty of a crime, unless he "surrenders himself" within 30 days of the missed court date. In other words, a person cannot be charged with criminal failure to appear until 30 days have passed from the day the judge issued a bench warrant for the non-appearance.
How does a person "surrender himself" and avoid the possible penalties for this offense? One way is to turn oneself in to police. If you do this, you can avoid prosecution for criminal failure to appear, but you will make your next court appearance, called a bench warrant return hearing, in custody and you will still be subject to penalties, including jail time, for contempt of court.
The better way to handle the situation is to contact a criminal defense attorney to place the matter on calendar and quash the bench warrant. This is the superior way to address a missed court date and bench warrant, as it allows you to appear before the court out of custody and explain the reason for your absence. In many instances, the court will quash the bench warrant and reset the court date that you missed.
The potential penalty for a conviction for this offense is based on the seriousness of the charge for which the defendant failed to appear. Thus, if the defendant does not show up for a court appearance in a felony case, the failure to appear is a felony, whereas ordinarily, failure to appear in a misdemeanor case is only a misdemeanor (although there is an important exception to this).
Specifically, pursuant to NRS 199.335(2)(a), a person who fails to appear on a felony case is guilty of a category D felony, which is punishable by 1 to 4 years in a Nevada prison and a $5,000 fine. This is a probationable felony, meaning that the judge does not have to sentence you to prison if you are convicted. Instead, the judge may, in his discretion, suspend the prison sentence and place you on a period of probation.
Pursuant to NRS 199.335(2)(b)(1), a person who fails to appear in court on a gross misdemeanor charge is guilty of a gross misdemeanor. A gross misdemeanor is punishable by up to one year in the Clark County Detention Center and a $2,000 fine. However, pursuant to NRS 199.335(2)(b)(2), if the defendant leaves the state to avoid prosecution on a gross misdemeanor charge, the failure to appear gets upgraded to a category D felony.
Similarly, a person who does not appear for a misdemeanor case is guilty of a misdemeanor pursuant to NRS 199.335(2)(c)(1). However, if a person leaves the State of Nevada to avoid prosecution on a misdemeanor charge, he is guilty of a category D felony pursuant to NRS 199.335(2)(c)(2).
If you have been charged with criminal failure to appear, or you are liable for prosecution under this criminal statute after missing a court date for a misdemeanor or felony offense, you should contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. As outlined above, you can avoid any criminal liability (and in many cases liability for contempt of court) if you have your matter placed on calendar quickly.
I have helped many people quash bench warrants after they have missed court dates in Las Vegas and throughout Southern Nevada. If your criminal case is in Las Vegas Justice Court, I can have your case placed back on calendar to quash your bench warrant the same week you call me. If I file the motion on Monday, for instance, I will be in court by Wednesday. Las Vegas Municipal Court (and other municipal courts of Southern Nevada) will take a little longer, depending on the particular department your case is assigned to.
If you live out of state, and you picked up charges while visiting Las Vegas, it may be possible for me to get your bench warrant quashed without you personally appearing. Whether this can be done depends on many factors, including the stage of the case when you failed to appear (it's worse to miss a trial than an initial appearance) and the extent of your criminal history.
Failure to appear is definitely a situation where time is of the essence. If you have failed to appear for a criminal case in Las Vegas, call me now.
By Michael Pandullo