What happens if I miss my court date?

If you are a Pennsylvania resident who failed to appear in court for a traffic ticket or any other civil or criminal court proceeding, there is an outstanding warrant for your arrest. Rule 1910.13-1 of the Pennsylvania Code provides that whenever you refuse or neglect to show up in court, you are in contempt of court and the judge will issue a bench warrant for your arrest.

Once the bench warrant is issued, it is entered into Pennsylvania’s computer system and law enforcement officers, as well as other people, such as municipal and state court systems, judges and attorneys, have access to the information. What this means is that “everyone” knows you are a fugitive and law enforcement officers are instructed to arrest you whenever and however they encounter you. How soon they arrest you, and whether or not they come to your home to do so, usually depends on the seriousness of the court proceeding at which you failed to appear.

Typical bench warrant situation

Bench warrants most commonly are issued by traffic court judges because many people “blow off” their court date for a speeding ticket or other traffic infraction. You may have been guilty of this practice yourself, mistakenly thinking that your traffic violation will somehow “go away” if you ignore it long enough. It does not and will not.

Instead, the bench warrant remains in effect until you are arrested, and your traffic ticket remains in effect until you appear in court and dispose of it one way or another. What all this means is that if you are pulled over for another traffic violation, the officer(s) will check to see if you have any outstanding warrants. Since you do, you will immediately be arrested and taken to jail, where you will remain, without bail, until a judge makes a further determination of your case. Officers may physically take you to court or the hearing may be done via two-way video between you and the judge.

Your failure to appear is itself a separate charge. You could face a fine of up to $1,000 and even additional jail time. While this information should not be taken as legal advice, it can help you understand the process and what to expect.

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