General Sessions Court Judge Bob Moon said there are still consequences for being late to court, though Criminal Court Judge Rebecca Stern this week issued an order that Judge David Bales could not impose public works in cases where defendants were late for court.
Judge Moon said, "The law is specific that defendants who fail to appear in court and who are charged with Class C or Class B misdemeanors which carry a maximum sentence of 30 days and six months respectively, could face an additional criminal charge. The punishment for failure to appear is a Class A misdemeanor with a sentence of up to 11 months and 29 days in jail. In these cases, judges do have the authority to impose public works, incarceration and/or probation. However, most defendants who fail to appear are rearrested with their initial bonds usually tripled with or without additional charges being filed.
"Defendants charged with Class A misdemeanors which carry penalties up to 11 months and 29 days and who are charged with felonies, may have an additional felony warrant filed against them. In those cases, it is a Class E felony that can carry from 1 to six years in jail. Bondsmen frequently apprehend 'no show' defendants and return them to court. They then usually request to be relieved from the bond and the defendant is then held without bond or a much higher bond. In their service of apprehension, bondsmen play an important and vital role in the administration of justice.
"There can be considerable consequences for persons who are tardy or fail to appear in court and who compromise the efficient and orderly administration of justice. Moreover, defendants and other persons who fail to appear in court impose a considerable expense on taxpayers due to additional warrants, process, incarceration costs and police over-time pay. Many victims and witnesses miss work and lose income in having to return to court again and again due to the irresponsibility of those who fail to appear or who are late.
"A defendant's failure to appear literally stops the judicial process of case resolution and also shifts a significant extra burden on court clerks and staff. If judges fail to maintain strict enforcement of those defendants and other persons who do not appear in court, it is only a matter of time that a tremendous backlog of cases occur, memories fail, citizens lose confidence in the system and justice is compromised.
"Compelling timely court appearance is an important component part of enforcing the law that a judge takes an oath to uphold. Moreover, judges have specific ethical duties to see that the administration of justice is conducted efficiently, orderly and that court appearance is a compelled priority.
"Defendants who fail to appear on minor traffic cases can be arrested and their driver's licenses revoked for one year.
"Each case has to be evaluated on each particular set of facts to determine what, if any, punishment should be ordered. Some cases of tardiness or failure to appear are justified. However, a genuine reason is sometimes very difficult for a judge to determine. Drug addiction, outstanding warrants, over sleeping and failure to comply with courts orders are perhaps the mainline reasons people fail to appear or are late for court. Nevertheless, at some point, a line must be drawn when unexcused tardiness in fact becomes an unexcused absence.
"Currently, Hamilton County has more than 25,000 plus outstanding warrants for defendants who have failed to appear in court. When witnesses ignore subpoenas, a 'show cause subpoena' is usually issued and served. The cost of that irresponsibility has then been passed on to the taxpayers and is significant. Obviously, the issue of 'failing to appear in court' should have been prioritized and enforced more in the past.
"I commend Judge David Bales and those judges who are now prioritizing and addressing the expensive irresponsibility of missed court appearances the cost of which reaches deep into the 'pocket book' of every taxpayer."