How to Handle a Bench Warrant or Failure to Appear in New York

New York has a thirty-day grace period, giving defendants a chance to avoid arrest for failing to appear.

By , Attorney (New Mexico School of Law)
Updated March 24, 2023

Failure to appear for a court appearance in a criminal case in New York can result in a bench warrant for your arrest. It can also mean you'll have an additional criminal charge (and a separate, additional jail or prison sentence) for the offense of bail jumping or failure to respond to an appearance ticket. You might also forfeit (lose) any bail posted before the failure to appear.

What Is a Bench Warrant for Failure to Appear?

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

New York provides a 30-day grace period after a missed court date before a bench warrant will be issued. So, if someone has missed their court date, they can normally avoid a bench warrant and related charges if they appear within 30 days after missing the date.

But after 30 days, the bench warrant normally will issue, and the person will probably be charged with bail jumping or failure to respond to an appearance ticket.

Failure to Respond to an Appearance Ticket in New York

When the police arrest someone for a non-felony offense in New York, the officer can serve the person with an appearance ticket directing the person to appear in court. The officer can also require the person to post pre-arraignment bail before they can get out.

If the person fails to appear for court as directed, the court can issue a bench warrant and charge the person with the offense of failing to respond to an appearance ticket. This offense is considered a "violation" in New York. A violation is similar to a misdemeanor. It's a non-felony crime other than a traffic infraction, punishable by up to fifteen days in jail. (N.Y. Penal Law, art. 215, §215.58, art 70, §70.15 (2023).)

Bail Jumping Offenses and Penalties in NY

When someone is arrested or formally charged with a crime and released after posting a bond or on their own recognizance (based on a promise to appear) they must appear for all court dates. When defendants don't appear for a court date, the judge can issue a bench warrant for their arrest and charge them with the crime of bail jumping in the first, second, or third degree.

Bail Jumping in the First Degree

Bail jumping in the first degree in New York is the offense of failing to appear in a case in which the person is charged with a Class A or Class B felony (including murder, terrorism, kidnapping, rape, assault with a deadly weapon, drug trafficking, conspiracy, bribery, and grand larceny burglary, robbery, and drug trafficking). Bail jumping in the first degree is a Class D felony, punishable by up to seven years imprisonment and a fine up to $5,000. (N.Y. Penal Law, art. 215, §215.57, art. 70, §70.00(2)(d) and (4), and art. 80, §80.00 (2023).)

Bail Jumping in the Second Degree

Bail jumping in the second degree is the crime of failing to appear in a case in which the person is charged with any felony. Bail jumping in the second degree is a Class E felony punishable by up to four years imprisonment and a fine of up to $5,000. (N.Y. Penal Law, art. 215, §215.56, art. 70, §70.00(2)(e) and (4), and art. 80, §80.00 (2023).)

Bail Jumping in the Third Degree

Bail jumping in the third degree is the failure to appear in any proceeding, including a case in which the person is charged with a misdemeanor or a probation violation. Bail jumping in the third degree is a Class A misdemeanor that carries a sentence of up to one year imprisonment or probation for three years, and a fine up to $1,000.( N.Y. Penal Law, art. 215, §215.55, art. 70, §70.15, and art. 80, §80.05 (2023).)

Other Consequences of Failing to Appear

An arrest warrant for failure to appear allows the police to take you into custody anywhere, at any time. The police can come to your home, your work or place of business, or a social event and arrest you.

If the court doesn't consider your failure to appear unavoidable or due to circumstances beyond your control (see below) and you posted a bond to get out of jail, the court can forfeit your bond. This means that the court will keep the bond and you won't get your money back when the case is over.

If you're convicted of bail jumping, the consequences aren't just time behind bars for that conviction. The prosecutor can use evidence of the bail jumping offense in the case you failed to appear on. They can argue to the jury that your failure to appear shows "consciousness of guilt." In other words, the prosecutor can argue that you didn't appear for court because you knew you were guilty of the charges you jumped bail on.

Defenses to Bail Jumping and Failure to Appear in New York.

A person can defend against bail jumping or failure to respond to an appearance ticket by showing that missing their court date was unavoidable due to circumstances beyond their control. But there's a catch: The person must show that their failure to appear on the specified date and during the 30 days after that date was unavoidable. They also have to show that after the 30-day grace period expired, they voluntarily came to court as soon as they could, or they were unable to appear.

Often, someone can establish this defense when their failure to appear resulted from the following types of situations:

  • a bad car accident
  • hospitalization
  • significant illness
  • a death of a close family member
  • being in jail in another location, or
  • the court failing to give notice or accurate notice of the court date.

To beat the charge, someone raising this defense often needs to present some evidence, other than their own word, that circumstances beyond their control prevented them from appearing.

What to Do If You Miss Your Court Date in New York

If you fail to appear or learn that a court has issued a bench warrant for your arrest, you should contact an attorney immediately for legal advice. An experienced criminal defense attorney can advise you on how to proceed, and can contact the court on your behalf. If you're formally charged with bail jumping or failure to respond to an appearance ticket, an attorney can assist you in preparing a defense and can advocate for you during sentencing.

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