New York’s bail reform law went into effect at the beginning of 2020, the start of a new regime in which cash bail is no longer required for most misdemeanors and many felonies. Instead of being forced to post a bail bond to secure their release, defendants are now issued appearance tickets, requiring them to come back to court on a specified date.
The question many defendants have is: what happens if you fail to show up to court? This was also a question asked by critics of bail reform, who argued that defendants would simply ignore their appearance tickets since there is no bail money or collateral at stake.
Before bail reform, if a person was released without bail and then did not show up to a scheduled court date, the judge could immediately issue a bench warrant for their arrest. The bail bond would be ordered forfeit if the defendant was not produced. Other penalties included driver’s license suspension and imposition of different bond requirements.
But under the new law, there is a 48-hour grace period before a bench warrant can be issued. During this 48-hour window, authorities are supposed to try to contact you and remind you to come to court. Crucially, even if a bench warrant is issued and you are brought in, the judge cannot order you detained, either for failing to show up or for the underlying offense you’re accused of.
However, there is an open question about what prosecutors can do if an accused person simply continues to not show up in court. According to a prosecutor in Erie County, the new law allows prosecutors to ask judges for a hearing where the state can try to prove to the judge that the accused is “willfully and persistently” trying to avoid coming to court.
As yet, there appears to be no case law that defines what “willful and persistent” means in the context of a failure to appear. That leaves it up to individual judges to decide whether you are willfully and persistently missing your court dates. For some judges, perhaps two failures to appear is enough. Others may be more lenient. The law is simply too new to provide a basis to know for sure.
Bail has not been totally eliminated. If you were charged with a felony, are released without bail and commit another felony while the case is pending, prosecutors can push for cash bail to be set.
There is a lot of ambiguity in the bail reform law. If you have an appearance ticket and are concerned about what to do, the best thing is to talk to an experienced New York City criminal defense lawyer. Call Tacopina, Seigel & DeOreo today at [ln::phone] or contact us online to schedule a free initial consultation.