“Failure to appear” when you have a court date scheduled in SC can have serious consequences, including a bench warrant for your arrest, the possibility of bond revocation, and additional criminal charges.
If you have been charged with a crime and released on bond, SC prosecutors and judges take your responsibility to appear at all court dates very seriously – and will not hesitate to put you in jail even if you missed a court date by accident.
In this article, we will discuss failure to appear and bench warrants in SC, including:
- What failure to appear means,
- What you should do if you know you cannot make a court appearance,
- What you should do if you missed a court appearance, and
- How bench warrants work in SC.
Failure to Appear in Court in SC
If you have been charged with a crime, released on bond, and miss a court appearance, that is a separate crime called failure to appear.
Even if you are not charged with the crime of failure to appear, the prosecutor will usually seek a bench warrant for your arrest, and, depending on the circumstances, they might seek a revocation of your bond as well.
How can you avoid a bench warrant for failure to appear?
- Calendar all court appearances in your case immediately,
- Have a family member or friend help you to remember and keep track of your court dates,
- Get an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your case immediately,
- Make sure that your attorney has copies of all paperwork that you received when you were arrested or when you were released from jail,
- Stay in touch with your attorney and make sure they can reach you when necessary,
- Tell your attorney as soon as you discover you may not be able to attend a court date, and
- Show up at your court dates – no matter what – unless your attorney confirms that you have been excused.
What to Do if You Can’t Make a Court Appearance in SC
What if you know you can’t make a court appearance? What should you do if you caught COVID and you are quarantined, or you have had an accident and you are in the hospital?
Contact your attorney immediately.
Your attorney may be able to get you excused from your court appearance, but we also may need written documentation – confirmation that you are in the hospital or a doctor’s note showing that you are COVID positive, for example.
Assume that you must attend your court date until your attorney has confirmed that you have been excused, and follow up with your attorney until you are sure.
If you don’t have an attorney, you will need to contact the clerk of court or your prosecutor’s office to request a continuance or excusal and get confirmation from them in writing.
Keep in mind, however, that 1) you should not be communicating directly with your prosecutor, and 2) many defendants who are arrested on bench warrants did not have attorneys when they missed their court dates – get an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your case immediately and let them handle these communications for you.
What to Do if You Already Missed a Court Appearance in SC
If you just discovered that you have a court date, and it is not too late – call your attorney, let them know you are on the way, and go!
If you just discovered that you missed a court date, and it is too late – call your attorney immediately and ask them what you should do. Odds are a bench warrant has been issued – they are often issued the same day – and the sheriff’s office may have already been instructed to arrest you.
Do not turn yourself in on a bench warrant until you have spoken to your attorney – call them immediately!
Depending on the circumstances, your criminal defense lawyer may be able to schedule a hearing on a motion to lift the bench warrant, and, if you appear at the hearing, may be able to get the bench warrant lifted before you are taken to jail.
Bench Warrants for Failure to Appear in SC
A bench warrant, often issued when a defendant fails to appear at a court appearance, authorizes the sheriff’s department to arrest you wherever you are (at home, at work, or during a traffic stop, for example) and take you to the jail where you will stay until the failure to appear has been resolved.
Bench warrants appear on NCIC, so any police officer who has contact with you and “runs your information” will see the bench warrant and take you into custody.
Penalties for Failure to Appear
There are several possible penalties for failing to appear at your court date:
- A bench warrant may be issued for your arrest,
- If arrested, you will remain in jail until the bench warrant is lifted,
- The prosecutor might move to revoke your bond and force you to remain in jail until the end of your case,
- You could be held in contempt of court by the judge – a criminal offense that could result in fines or jail time, and
- You could be charged with the separate crime of failure to appear under SC Code § 17-15-90.
The potential penalties for the criminal offense of failure to appear could be up to five years in prison if the underlying offense was a felony or up to one year in prison if the underlying offense was a misdemeanor.
How Do I Find Out if There is a Bench Warrant for My Arrest?
If you suspect there is a bench warrant for your arrest, call your attorney immediately. If you don’t have an attorney, get a criminal defense lawyer on your case immediately.
You could call the sheriff’s office or the solicitor’s office and ask them if there is a bench warrant, but they probably will not tell you because they do not want you to hide from the deputies.
Your attorney may be able to find out on your behalf, however, and then file a motion to have the bench warrant lifted.
Questions About Failure to Appear and Bench Warrants in SC?
Criminal defense lawyer Kent Collins will help to ensure that you do not miss your court dates by communicating with you regularly, will help you to get continuances or excusals when necessary, and will help you to get your bench warrant lifted if you have missed your court date.
Get in touch with Kent by phone at 803-808-0905 or use this form to reach him online to schedule your in-person consultation.
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