How to Handle a Bench Warrant or Failure to Appear in Arkansas

You can face bench warrants and criminal charges for failure to appear in Arkansas. What are the possible penalties and are there defenses to a charge for failure to appear?

Failure to appear for court without a reasonable excuse in a pending criminal case can be charged as a criminal offense in Arkansas. (Ark. Code. Ann. §5-54-120.) When a person is required to appear for court on a citation or summons or after being released from jail with or without bail in a criminal case, failing to appear also can result in a bench warrant for arrest and forfeiture of a posted bond.

A bench warrant literally directs the police to arrest you and bring you before the court. When police arrest a person on a bench warrant, the person typically will be taken to jail and held there until the judge is available for a hearing.

Felony and Misdemeanor Failure to Appear – Offenses and Penalties

A charge for failure to appear can be a misdemeanor or a felony in Arkansas, depending on the criminal charge in the pending case or the court proceeding for which the defendant fails to appear.

Felony charges. If a defendant fails to appear without a reasonable excuse in a case involving a felony charge, the offense of failure to appear is a Class C felony punishable by three to ten years in prison and a fine up to $10,000. (Ark. Code Ann. §§5-54-120, 5-4-401.)

Probation revocation hearing. The offense of failure to appear for a probation revocation hearing in a case involving a conviction for a felony offense is a Class D felony. This offense of failure to appear is punishable by up to six years in prison and a fine up to $10,000. (Ark. Code. Ann. §§5-54-120, 5-4-401.)

Misdemeanors. If a defendant fails to appear in a case in Arkansas involving a misdemeanor charge, the failure to appear offense can be one of three types of misdemeanors. If the underlying case involves a Class A misdemeanor, the failure to appear also is a Class A misdemeanor. Likewise, failure to appear is a Class B misdemeanor if the underlying criminal charge is a Class B misdemeanor. If a defendant fails to appear on a violation charge (a criminal offense punishable by a fine only and no jail or imprisonment), he can be charged with failure to appear as a Class C misdemeanor. ( Ark. Code Ann. §5-54-120.)

Unclassified misdemeanors. If a defendant fails to appear in a criminal case in which he is charged with an unclassified misdemeanor, the failure to appear also will be an unclassified misdemeanor. (Ark. Code. Ann. §5-4-120.) In Arkansas, an unclassified misdemeanor is a misdemeanor that has a specific penalty listed in the statute defining that misdemeanor. For example, the crime of animal cruelty in Arkansas is an unclassified misdemeanor because it has a special penalty scheme that is specific to that crime, is listed in the statute defining animal cruelty, and is not the same as the penalties for Class A or B misdemeanors.

Class A misdemeanor failure to appear in Arkansas is punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine up to $2500. Class B misdemeanor failure to appear is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine up to $1000. Class C misdemeanor failure to appear is punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine up to $500. The penalty for an unclassified misdemeanor failure to appear is the same as the penalty listed in the statute for the underlying alleged crime . If a defendant failed to appear for a hearing in a case in which he was charged with animal cruelty, for example, the penalty for the offense of failure to appear in that case would be the same as the penalty for animal cruelty. (Ark. Code. Ann. §5-4-401.)

Defenses to Failure to Appear

In Arkansas, a reasonable excuse for failure to appear is a defense to the crime. It is the defendant’s obligation to present evidence and establish the reasonable excuse defense, which usually involves unavoidable circumstances beyond the defendant’s control that kept the defendant from appearing at or getting to the court.

A reasonable excuse for failure to appear could include a motor vehicle accident, hospitalization, illness, a death in the family, the defendant’s car breaking down on the way to court, being in jail in another location, or the court failing to give notice or accurate notice of the time, date and location for the required court appearance. Being advised by your attorney that you do not have to appear for court if you have a notice from the court is not a reasonable excuse for failure to appear in Arkansas.

What to Do If You Fail to Appear or Learn a Warrant for Arrest Has Been Issued

An arrest warrant for failure to appear allows the police to take you into custody, essentially anywhere, at any time. The police can come to your home, your work or place of business, or a social event and arrest you. You also can be arrested if a police officer discovers the warrant during a traffic stop for even a minor traffic violation.

A conviction for failure to appear becomes part of your criminal record and can affect your conditions of release if you are charged with another crime in the future. The conviction will appear in any background checks for employment or housing.

If you fail to appear for court in a criminal case in Arkansas while released on bond, the court can forfeit your bond and you can be held in jail until your case is completed. If you posted a bond, the court will keep the bond and the money will not be returned to you.

If you miss a court date or learn that a court in Arkansas has issued a bench warrant for failure to appear, you should contact an attorney immediately for legal advice. An experienced criminal defense attorney can contact the court on your behalf, possibly arrange for you to appear in front of the judge rather than be taken into custody, and assist you in preparing a defense or addressing sentencing if you are formally charged with the offense of failure to appear.

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