Do I have to show up for court when I receive a summons?
Yes, in nearly every criminal case, a person is required by law to show up to court when they are mailed or handed a summons to appear in court. There are two main reasons why a person could be summonsed:
- To appear at an arraignment
- To be called as a witness or being the victim of a crime
If police think that you committed a crime, but don’t arrest you with handcuffs, they will likely send you a piece of paper in the mail. That piece of paper is called a summons. A criminal summons is a court order to appear at a specific courthouse at a specific date and time.
Your first appearance before a judge is called arraignment. Think of it as being the official starting point to the criminal justice process. When you are arraigned, an entry of the crime or crimes you have been charged with appears on your criminal record.
What happens if I don’t go to my arraignment?
If you do not show up to your arraignment, the court issues a default against you. When you default, the judge issues a warrant for your arrest. Law enforcement is typically notified a few hours after the judge issues this order, as soon as the court processes the necessary paperwork.
There are very few valid reasons for not showing up for your arraignment. Because of this, to avoid being arrested it is essential that you appear in court when your summons instructs you to do so.
What happens if I am summonsed as a witness and I don’t go to court?
Sometimes people are summonsed as a witness and for whatever reason choose not to appear in court when they are instructed to do so. When this happens, the district attorney can request a bench warrant for their arrest. These warrants are active for 24 hours.
Can I get in trouble if I tell someone else not to appear in court?
Yes, if the district attorney proves that you advised a person not to appear in court you can be prosecuted. You can be charged or indicted with Intimidation of a Witness.
Even if you are not scaring a witness or threatening harm against them, you are still breaking the law by telling someone not to appear in court. Evidence that you instructed someone not to appear in court could include:
- Jailhouse calls
- Third party contact
What does ‘no face, no case’ mean?
You may have heard the expression “no face, no case” before. This is street slang for the idea that if a victim does not show up to court, the case cannot go forward. Is this actually true?
The answer is, it depends. The Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution says that all people accused of crimes have a right to confront the witnesses against them, including the accuser. In trial terms, this means examining, or asking questions, to the person making the allegations.
However, even if the victim does not show up to court, this does not necessarily mean that the case goes away. Often, the prosecution can bring a case forward without the victim, using:
- Independent witnesses
- Medical records
- Excited utterances (statements about a startling event, when the defendant is under stress)
- Police officer testimony
Are there any times when I would not have to testify as a witness?
Whenever you receive a summons to be a witness, you should always appear in court when you are instructed to do so.
However, there are some situations when you would not need to testify. These could include:
- Marital privilege
- Fifth Amendment
Immunity is a special type of legal exemption from testifying that the district attorney has the discretion of granting. Likewise, marital privilege is an exemption from testifying that applies to confidential communications that are made during a marriage.
Lastly, the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution says that people cannot be forced to be witnesses against themselves in a criminal case. This most importantly applies to the defendant, who cannot be directly examined by the prosecution. It also could apply to witnesses who, by testifying, could implicate themselves in crimes.
IF YOU OR A LOVED ONE HAVE RECEIVED A CRIMINAL SUMMONS IN THE MAIL, AND YOU NEED AN EXPERIENCED CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER WORKING ON YOUR SIDE TO PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS, PLEASE CONTACT CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY WILLIAM J. BARABINO.
CALL 781-393-5900 TO LEARN MORE ABOUT YOUR AVAILABLE DEFENSES.