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

What should you do if you fail to appear for court or learn a bench warrant has been issued for your arrest?

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated 11/02/2023

Many people arrested or formally charged with a crime in Texas will be released on bail, bond, or personal recognizance. No matter what type of release a person gets, a condition of that release will be to appear for all court dates, such as arraignments, hearings, trials, and sentencing. Failure to appear can result in serious consequences.

What Is Failure to Appear in Texas?

Failure to appear means a person violated a court order to appear in court or return to custody. Most often, this situation occurs when a person who's released pending trial, with or without bail, fails to show up at arraignment, trial, or sentencing. In other cases, a judge might temporarily release a defendant from custody (jail) on the condition that they return by a designated date and time, and the defendant fails to do so.

Failure to appear (sometimes called "FTA" or "bail jumping") is a crime. On top of facing potential criminal charges, the judge can revoke the person's bail, increase the bail amount, set bail (if released without bail), hold the person in contempt of court, or order forfeiture of bail.

(Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 22.02; Tex. Penal Code § 38.10 (2023).)

What Happens When a Person Fails to Appear?

Failure to appear in court will typically result in a bench warrant being issued for the person's arrest. These warrants are known as "bench warrants" because judges issue them in the courtroom when it's clear that the defendant has not appeared as required.

Bench Warrant in Texas

A bench warrant directs police to arrest and bring the person 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. Police might show up at the person's home or place of employment or arrest them during a traffic stop.

How to Find Out If You Have a Bench Warrant in Texas

Your lawyer likely showed up in court, even if you didn't. So a call to your lawyer is a good place to start. Some counties (like Harris County) have online warrant searches. Other options include checking with the law enforcement agency in the city or county where you were supposed to have appeared. The police department or jail might have an online search, a list of active warrants, or a phone number to call.

Can You Get Your Bench Warrant Dismissed?

If you find out a bench warrant has been issued, talk to a criminal defense attorney immediately to figure out how to handle the situation. It's possible to get the warrant dismissed if the failure to appear wasn't knowing or intentional and you had a reasonable excuse. If you have a reasonable excuse (such as a car accident or emergency hospitalization), your attorney may be able to convince the judge to dismiss the bench warrant.

What Are the Consequences for Failing to Appear in Texas?

As mentioned above, failure to appear carries several potential consequences.

Modify or Revoke Bail or Pretrial Release

After issuing a bench warrant, the judge will likely modify or revoke your release conditions. The judge can take any number of steps, such as:

  • imposing bail or bond if none was initially set
  • requiring a secured bond (some type of collateral)
  • increasing the bail or bond amount
  • imposing new and more restrictive release conditions, or
  • revoking release and ordering the defendant to be held in custody (jail).

Forfeit Bail or Bond

Another possible consequence of failing to appear is forfeiture of your bail. If you posted bail or bond, the judge can issue an order that allows the State to begin forfeiture proceedings. You might stand to lose a lot of money or property, including whatever cash you or another person posted on your behalf, any collateral you or another person put up (such as a car, watch, or real property), and costs related to the forfeiture proceedings.

Criminal Penalties for Failure to Appear (Bail Jumping)

Failure to appear (or bail jumping) is a separate crime under the Texas Penal Code (and in many other states as well). To be convicted, the prosecutor must prove the failure to appear was intentional or knowing.

A person convicted of failure to appear faces misdemeanor or felony penalties. The penalties will depend on the severity of the charges that required your appearance in the first place.

  • If the defendant is charged with failure to appear for court in a case involving a crime punishable only by a fine, the failure to appear is a Class C misdemeanor.
  • If the underlying crime is a misdemeanor and the possible punishment includes a jail sentence, the failure to appear is a Class A misdemeanor.
  • Finally, if the underlying offense for which the defendant is required to appear in court is a felony, failure to appear is a third-degree felony.

Class C misdemeanors are punishable by a maximum $500 fine but not by jail time. Class A misdemeanors carry up to one year in jail, a fine up to $4,000, or both. A person convicted of a third-degree felony faces 2 to 10 years in prison.

(Tex. Penal Code §§ 12.03, 12.21, 12.23, 12.34, 38.10 (2023).)

What to Do If You Have a Bench Warrant or Missed a Court Date in Texas

If you're running late to a court hearing, call your lawyer or the court to let them know. They might be able to reschedule the hearing (but they don't have to). A judge might be lenient if you made a legitimate effort to be on time and you haven't no-showed before. Even if your excuse is not a great one (like you overslept), you should still make an effort to contact the court and your lawyer.

If you've already failed to appear or have a bench warrant, contact your lawyer for help with next steps. Your attorney might be able to set up a new hearing date or arrange for you to turn yourself in rather than having cops arrest you. Some courts have warrant hotlines to assist with rescheduling court dates or provide directions for self surrender.

If you have a legitimate excuse for not showing up (something happened beyond your control), be sure to gather proof of the date, time, and extent of the emergency or occurrence. This proof might be a hospital or emergency room bill or a police report of a car accident. Texas law provides certain defenses to failure to appear, and your lawyer will have a better chance of arguing successfully on your behalf if you have the proof to back it up.

Defenses for Failure to Appear in Texas

Defenses that may excuse a failure to appear must generally be occurrences that are beyond a defendant's control, such as emergency hospitalization, serious accident, coma, or incarceration in another location. You might be able to argue you didn't receive proper notification of the hearing, although this will be a tough argument if your attorney showed up and you didn't.

The judge will not likely accept any of the following excuses as reasonable—you overslept, forgot or messed up the hearing date, were intoxicated, or couldn't find transportation or childcare.

Talk to a Lawyer

Failure to appear should not be taken lightly. It can result in harsh consequences—arrest, bail forfeiture, jail time, and additional criminal charges. 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 bail jumping or failure to appear.

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