Articles on South Carolina Law

Failure to appear at a court date in South Carolina is a serious matter that usually results in a bench warrant being issued for your arrest – in some cases – on the same day.

Your criminal defense lawyer can help you to 1) avoid bench warrants for failure to appear and 2) help you to resolve bench warrants if you have already missed a court date.

In this article, we will discuss:

  • What “failure to appear” in court means in SC,
  • What you should do if you have missed a court date,
  • How to avoid bench warrants for failure to appear, and
  • The potential consequences for failing to appear at a criminal court date in SC.

What Does “Failure to Appear” Mean in SC?

In criminal court in SC, “failure to appear” means you have a court date like “roll call,”  a first or second appearance date, a trial date, or any court appearance for which you have received notice to attend or a subpoena commanding your attendance, and you do not show up.

You are responsible for notifying the court if your contact information such as your mailing address changes during the time your case is pending.  It is not enough to notify the post office.  It is not enough to notify the law enforcement agency.  It is not enough to change your mailing address on your driver’s license or state issued ID card.

The bottom line – the burden is on you to notify the court and keep the court updated of your new address.

Although there are many possible consequences for failing to appear in court, the immediate consequence that you will need to resolve as soon as possible is the bench warrant for your arrest that the court could issue as soon as the same day that you failed to appear for court.

Things to Do if You Miss a Court Date

What should you do when you wake up Monday morning, panicked because you just realized your court date was last Friday and you completely forgot about it?

  • Call your attorney – immediately,
  • Let your attorney know what happened and why you weren’t in court,
  • Your attorney can find out if you have a bench warrant and what the prosecutor’s position is on lifting (canceling) that bench warrant,
  • Your attorney may be able to get your bondsman’s assistance in getting the bench warrant lifted/canceled or get the bondsman to agree to remain on your bond once the court lifts/cancels the bench warrant,
  • Your prosecutor might agree to lift the bench warrant if your attorney brings you in and lets the prosecutor see that you have not skipped out on bail,
  • If your prosecutor does not agree to lift the bench warrant, your attorney can file a motion to lift the bench warrant, get a hearing scheduled, and you may be able to appear before a judge and get the bench warrant lifted before law enforcement picks you up, or
  • If you are arrested on the bench warrant before the hearing can be scheduled, your attorney may be able to get you in front of a circuit court judge as soon as possible to explain the circumstances (and why it will not happen again) and ask the court to lift the bench warrant and release you from jail.

Things Not to Do if You Miss a Court Date

  • Do not call the Clerk of Court – the solicitor’s office is likely the agency that requested the bench warrant and that has the power to lift the warrant, and the Clerk’s Office is not likely to help you,
  • Do not call the Prosecutor’s/Solicitor’s office – they are not trying to help you, they will most likely attempt to have you arrested on the bench warrant instead of lifting/ canceling the bench warrant, and everything you say to government agents (including the Solicitor’s Office and Clerk’s Office employees) may be used against you in court,
  • Do not leave voicemails or other messages at the Clerk’s Office or the Solicitor’s Office,
  • Do not attempt to get the court date rescheduled by calling the Clerk, Solicitor, or Judge – most likely, a bench warrant has already been issued and they are only interested in arresting you at this point.

We can’t stress this enough – do not call the Solicitor’s Office, the Clerk’s Office, or a Judge’s Office. There are some websites in SC advising criminal defendants to do one or all of these things if they have missed a court date, but it is bad advice that may get you arrested and possibly hurt your case. 

Call your criminal defense attorney. Immediately

Let your attorney talk to the solicitor’s office, the Clerk’s Office, or any judges involved in your case, stay in close contact with your attorney in the future, and follow her advice.

Avoiding Bench Warrants for Failure to Appear

How can you avoid getting a bench warrant for failure to appear in SC?

  • Retain a criminal defense attorney immediately – or, if you cannot pay an attorney, contact the public defender’s office immediately after your arrest,
  • Make a list of all court dates – dates, times, and locations – calendar them, make sure a family member knows the dates and can help you to remember them and make sure that your attorney has them calendared,
  • Stay in close contact with your attorney throughout your case and make sure they can reach you at all times,
  • Let your attorney know well in advance if there is a conflict that would prevent you from attending your court date,
  • Make arrangements to attend all court dates regardless of the inconvenience or conflicts that would make it difficult, and
  • Plan on attending your court date unless and until your attorney has confirmed that you have been excused from attending.

How Do You Know If You Have a Bench Warrant?

How do you know when a bench warrant has been issued for failure to appear?

In most cases, you don’t until you get your criminal defense lawyer to assist you. The sheriff’s office or prosecutor’s office may not tell you if you call them, as a matter of policy, because they do not want to “tip off” people they are about to arrest. Some people find out through seeing their photos on the news or on a “wanted” or “Be On The Lookout” (BOLO) list.

However, your attorney may be able to find out because she may possibly arrange an agreement to bring you in to court so the prosecutor/solicitor can see you did not skip town, or your attorney can file a motion to lift the bench warrant and ensure you appear at the motion hearing to resolve the issue if law enforcement has not already arrested you.

Penalties for Failure to Appear in Court

As we discussed above, the most common – and immediate – consequence for failing to appear at a mandatory court date is a bench warrant for your arrest. If you are picked up on the warrant, you will then remain in jail without bond until your attorney gets a hearing scheduled on a motion to lift the warrant. You can be picked up anywhere… at work, at home, as a passenger in a car. The warrant is connected to your identity; not just your last known home address.

Other penalties/consequences may include:

  • Contempt of court for violating a court order that required you to appear in court,
  • Bond revocation, in which case you will stay in jail until your case is resolved.

Questions About Failure to Appear in Court in SC?

If you have missed a court date or have a bench warrant for failure to appear, contact your criminal defense attorney, immediately – before you call the police or solicitor’s office – to discuss your options.

We may be able to help you get the bench warrant lifted, ensure that you do not miss any future court dates, and resolve your criminal charges through dismissal, negotiations, or trial.

Contact us through our website using this form or call 843-607-9800 to speak with attorney Susan Williams today.

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