Failing to appear in court burdens Md. judicial system

Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — In 2013, there were more than 41,000 cases where criminal defendants failed to show up to court in the state, according to Maryland District Court records. Defendants missed scheduled court dates for initial charges that included petty crimes to more serious offenses.

The majority of the initial charges where defendants failed to appear in court were drug-related, according to records obtained by Capital News Service through a Maryland Public Information Act request. There were more than 10,900 drug-related charges.

There were nearly 7,500 theft charges among the initial cases.

Other initial charges included littering, selling unpackaged cigarettes, animal cruelty and violation of protective orders.

For Maryland District Court clerks, the process of rescheduling court dates and processing bench warrants for these ‘failure to appear’ cases happens so frequently that it has become just another part of the job.

But in criminal cases, if a defendant does not keep his court date it delays due process and compromises the case, said Judge Robert C. Wilcox, a retired District Court judge, who continues to hear cases twice per week.

“It collapses the system,” said Wilcox. “Time works for them but against the court,” Wilcox said, noting that delaying a case can be used as a defense tactic.

“The cases do not get stronger with time.”

Wilcox said there are excusable absences. If a person has documentation of illness or proof that he was not served with notice of the scheduled hearing, the court will take that under consideration.

Opposite of a failure to appear, an attorney can request a postponement of the case where appropriate, and a continuance can be requested when a case starts but circumstances require it to be delayed.

Wilcox said that while postponement requests and continuances also prolong the process, failing to appear hinders the ability for the court to proceed.

“With a postponement, you know when the case is coming back

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