What happens if you fail to appear at your court hearing in Colorado? It depends on the context of your case, but, in almost every matter, the short answer is: nothing good.
Contempt of Court
Failing to appear at your hearing will likely result in contempt proceedings, especially in the civil context. Contempt can occur in virtually any proceeding where a person demonstrates a willful disobedience with some judicial requirement with which they had the ability to comply. This can include a variety of conduct: failing to follow a valid court order (such as an Order to appear in court), disorderly conduct in the courtroom, or any other behavior which disrupts the judicial proceeding. At the end of the day, it is a way for the Court to enforce its general authority and specific orders by punishing those who defy them.
There are two types of contempt: direct and indirect. Direct contempt includes any defiance of judicial orders which occurs in the judge’s actual presence, while indirect contempt includes any alleged contempt not included by direct. This distinction is important because direct contempt allows the judge to summarily impose sanctions against you – or do so with little to no hearing. On the other hand, people facing indirect contempt citations are entitled to certain rights and due process before sanctions may be imposed against them.
Both versions of contempt carry two potential forms of sanctions: punitive and remedial. Punitive sanctions are designed to address more egregious offenses that cut against the Court’s dignity or authority. They may include both unconditional fines and limited jail sentences. Remedial sanctions, on the other hand, are designed to compel a person’s compliance with a legal order. These sanctions can vary depending on the underlying order but can also lead to more punitive sanctions if the person’s disobedience continues.
Failures to appear are typically considered indirect contempt, which means that you may be looking towards additional litigation costs in the future. To avoid contempt sanctions at this hearing, a person would have to demonstrate that they were unable to comply with the underlying Order – which may get complicated in the case of a failure to appear charge. If you are facing contempt charges on these grounds, you should contact an attorney who can help strategize based on the particular facts in your case and help you avoid such dilemmas in the future.
The other most typical remedy for a failure to appear is the issuance of a bench warrant for your arrest. A bench warrant is pretty much like your standard arrest warrant, except that it is issued “from the bench”, or directly by the judge. Despite that difference, bench warrants are just as enforceable as any other arrest warrant – and can end up with you being arrested, spending some time in jail, and potentially paying fines.
Many people think that bench warrants are not actively pursued by law enforcement. While this may be true in many cases, there are some very important considerations to remember before you take this risk.
There is no statute of limitations on bench warrants, meaning that they never expire naturally. The warrant will remain in effect until you (or your attorney) take the proper steps to resolve the issue and quash the bench warrant. Therefore, even if you failed to appear at a hearing several years ago, one traffic stop will reveal an active warrant and likely result in your arrest.
Speaking of traffic stops, a bench warrant may keep you off the roads altogether. When a judge issues a bench warrant, they also provide a copy to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The DMV will then suspend your license until the warrant is resolved with the Court. Even then, you will need to provide the DMV proof of this judicial resolution to remove the suspension.
In Criminal Proceedings
Failures to appear are always serious charges, but perhaps more so in the context of criminal law. If you are out of custody on bail, failing to appear at your next hearing will likely result in a bond revocation and forfeiture. If this occurs, you will likely be held in custody until you can remedy the charge by appearing before the Court. Similarly, if you are under the supervision of probation, a failure to appear will likely violate the terms of your probation.
Some specific criminal proceedings carry extra penalties for failing to appear in court. For example, if you are being prosecuted for an alcohol-related offense (like a DUI, DWAI, etc.) and fail to appear at your court date, the DMV will automatically enter a conviction for the underlying offense onto your driving record. This “conviction” can later be removed after you resolve the failure to appear charge but will not be done automatically by the Court.
Given all of this, failing to appear in court is a serious offense which should be avoided whenever possible. We all understand that sometimes things come up, and you are unable to make your court date. This should be addressed with the Court as soon as practicable, preferably by an attorney who understands the nuanced legal arguments necessary to continue your scheduled hearing.
If it is too late to avoid this charge, and you believe there may be active contempt proceedings or bench warrants against you, it is crucial for you to take active steps towards a resolution. Do not ignore these charges. They will only linger in the background and come back to haunt you at the least opportune time. Our team of attorneys are well versed in handling these cases at every stage; so, if you have concerns regarding a failure to appear in court, we encourage you to reach out and seek our guidance on mitigating these consequences and getting your case back on track.