If you’ve been called to appear in court and you failed to abide by the summons, the consequences of ignoring such formal legal requests can only be detrimental to you or your case (if you have one). Failing to appear often merits a contempt of court punishment but how severe the penalty depends on the nature of your case.

Failure to Appear: Civil Torts

If you fail to appear on a case concerning civil wrongdoing (torts), then the typical penalty is an automatic decision favoring the litigant who appears for the summons. This is good for the respondent if the plaintiff doesn’t appear since they’ll be free of any legal responsibility. The plaintiff still has other remedies for a missed court appearance though. For example, the judge can reschedule the case hearing if an attorney acting for the plaintiff asks for a new appearance schedule.

Note though that an attorney can only appear at court for a litigant if the court date is not one where a final decision on the case is going to be made. You’ll have to check your particular state’s guidelines regarding failure to appear since it’s possible that a litigant can be arrested or made to appear in court. Showing yourself to the judge when you’re summoned may have a positive effect on a self-recognizance release later.

Failure to Appear: Criminal Proceedings

The penalty for a defendant when he or she fails to appear in court in a criminal proceeding can have dire consequences. For one, if the defendant is free on a bail bond, then said bond will be revoked and the defendant placed behind bars. For another, in cases where a defendant jumps bail in a felony case and fails to appear in court, the bond will be forfeited and additional cases filed against them. Should the defendant receive a contempt of court charge, then jail time can last anywhere between 10 to 30 days plus legal fines.

Failure to Appear: Jury Duty

If you’ve been called for jury duty, even just for an evaluation or selection, and you failed to appear, you could also be liable for contempt of court charges. However, this is only true if you’ve been known to repeatedly ignore jury duty summons.

The reason why failure to appear in court carries possibly grave consequences is the fact that it’s an overt show of disregard (or contempt) of court. The legal system seeks to preserve order in its proceedings and if individuals refuse to be ruled by court guidelines, it will be a failure in upholding the laws of the land.

Whatever the gravity or nature of your court date, if you don’t want to deal with the negative consequences of a nonappearance in court, it’s always in your best interests if you make time to abide by any summons to appear.