Whether or not a person accused of a crime must appear in court depends on the charge.
MISDEMEANOR CASES: if the person accused is charged with a misdemeanor, then he or she can have an attorney appear on his or her behalf at all stages of the case. However there are a few exceptions:
- Domestic Violence Cases – (non appearance not allowed) At the arraignment stage and sentencing stage, a defendant in a misdemeanor case must appear. The reason is that at these two stages in domestic violence cases, the court generally issues a protective order and the defendant will need to be personally served that protective order and be informed of the conditions of that protective order. Therefore, the defendant, must be present.
- A Violation of a Protective Order (non appearance not allowed). Similar to domestic violence cases, a defendant charged with a violation of a protective order must also appear at arraignment and sentencing because of the issue of the protective order.
- DUI – (non appearance sometimes allowed) Sometimes, in DUI cases, the court will require a defendant to appear at the arraignment, plea and/or sentencing. It is important for people charged with a misdemeanor DUI to retain counsel familiar with the judge or the court where the case will be heard. If there is any question whether or not you should appear, it is better to just show up, because not showing up when you are supposed to will lead to a bench warrant.
- Plea – (non appearance usually allowed) most judges will allow attorneys to appear for their clients to enter a plea on their behalf. In order to do this, the attorney will have to submit a notarized Tahl Waiver which they went over with their client, made sure their client understood the offer and the consequences and their constitutional rights to a trial. Some judges however, do not allow notarized Tahl waivers and require the defendant to be present at the plea and sentencing. Therefore, it is important for a defendant to consult with an attorney that is familiar with the judge that is hearing the case
or have the attorney consult with the judge before the date of the plea.
- If the Judge Requires Appearance – In addition to the above, a person accused of a misdemeanor must always appear if specifically ordered by the court.
FELONY CASES: If the person accused is charged with a felony, then he or she must always appear at the arraignment, plea, preliminary hearing, parts of a trial and sentencing. One of the reasons is in felonies, bail is often an issue and the court may ask for bail, or increase bail if bail was already posted.
However there is one exception. A person accused of a felony can have an attorney appear for him or her in court only when the judge allows the defendant to complete, in open court, a written waiver of his or her right to be personally present.
CONCLUSION: When in doubt…show up! Because it could lead to a bench warrant. The best thing to do when you are wondering if you need to go to court is to retain counsel ahead of time and consult with that attorney. The attorney will tell you if he or she can appear on your behalf. If you do not have counsel before you go to court or you plan or requesting a public defender, then you must appear in court.