If you missed your court date for a minor traffic case, you were most likely found guilty in your absence. (See below for reckless driving charges and other criminal offenses.) In that situation, you have two options to try to salvage your case.
The first option is to appeal your case. Under Virginia law, you have the right to appeal your case to the circuit court. You must note your appeal in the clerk’s office, in writing, within 10 calendar days of your original court date. You do not need an excuse to appeal your case. If you appeal your case to circuit court, your case starts all over again. You will have a new court date, and your case will be heard by a new judge in the circuit court.
Importantly, you must note your appeal in writing in the clerk’s office. Only you, or an attorney acting on your behalf, can note your appeal, and it must be done within 10 days from your original court date.
The second option is to file a Motion to Re-open. You have 60 days from your original court date to make a Motion to Re-open your case. In that situation, you are asking the judge to re-open your case and you must set forth some valid reason why the judge should grant the motion. If the judge grants the motion to re-open, you can proceed to ask the judge to reconsider your case.
This is a prime example of why it is important to hire an attorney who is familiar with the local courts and judges. The answer depends very much on the where your case is pending and the judges who are likely to hear your case.
When I speak with clients in this situation, these are some of the topics that I explain:
What are your reasons for requesting the judge to re-open your case? Some judges are very lenient in re-opening cases. They will re-open a case for almost any reason at all. Some judges are incredibly strict when considering a motion to re-open. They will only re-open a case for extreme situations. If you hire an attorney to make a motion to re-open in front of the wrong judge for the wrong reasons, you may be completely wasting your money. On the other hand, your attorney may save you a lot of money if the motion is handled correctly in front of a favorable judge.
Are the circuit court judges likely to be favorable to a case like yours? Just like other judges, some circuit court judges are incredibly lenient with traffic cases, and some are very heavy-handed. If you appeal your case to an unfavorable judge, you may end up with a worse result than before.
Because a prosecutor will always be involved with an appeal, how do the local prosecutors approach appeals in circuit court? Do they have a history of working with defense attorneys to achieve a good outcome? Or do the local prosecutors refuse to negotiate on any cases and force all cases to a trial? Keep in mind, some prosecutors may ask the judge for a more severe result than before!
In this situation, if you were not “tried in your absence,” the judge likely issued a capias (i.e., an arrest warrant). The capias is also the beginning of a new charge: Failure to Appear (sometimes called “FTA”).
If the judge issued a capias, ultimately, you must turn yourself in to the local law enforcement (usually at the local magistrate’s office / jail). Before you turn yourself in, you should contact an attorney to discuss all of your options.
If you are denied bond after turning yourself in, it will be very helpful to have an attorney ready to schedule a bond hearing at the earliest possible moment. You may have to spend a day or two in jail before the bond hearing, but at least your attorney can schedule it as soon as possible.
An attorney can advise you on the best times and places to turn yourself in. For example, it is rarely a good idea to turn yourself in on a Friday afternoon before a long weekend. In some cases, I will arrange to have an officer meet my client at my office, thereby streamlining the process between the initial arrest and bonding.
An attorney will be able to discuss your entire situation and explain what is likely to happen. For most of my clients, the fear of the unknown is the most stressful aspect of their case. After I explain the range possibilities, it is much easier for them to face the situation.
If you missed your court date, or if your court date is coming soon, call my office for a free consultation to discuss your case.
No matter what, I will stand by you through this process. You will not have to navigate the system alone.
Please, do not assume that you can handle the charge on your own! At the very least, I can evaluate your case and help you understand all of your options. You have nothing to lose by calling.
To set up a free consultation today, call (757) 333-7529 or use the Contact page.