By Jedidah McKeehan

Every day, in almost every county, in every state, in the United States, a criminal defendant is not present for their scheduled court date to address their pending criminal charge(s).

Maybe the defendant simply forgot that they had court that day, maybe they got sick and are in the hospital, or maybe they just decided that they had better things to do than to show up for their court date.

What does the law say and do with these individuals who do not show up for court?

Tennessee law specifically addresses this circumstance in Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-16-609.

I will not include the entire law here, but the sum and the whole of the law is, that unless someone has a valid reason for not appearing for their criminal court date, then they will be charged with the crime of, “Failure to Appear,” which is often shortened to, “FTA.”

Depending on the nature of the original crime with which the defendant is charged, the FTA can be a Class A misdemeanor, which means that it is punishable by up to 11 months, and 29 days in jail, or as a Class E Felony, which is punishable by up to 2 years in prison.  Serious consequences for missing a court date.

The law states that if the defendant has a reasonable excuse for their absence, then they can avoid being convicted of the FTA, however, it better be something pretty good.

My advice, if you believe that you may miss a court date, contact your attorney immediately and let them know the situation and why you are not able to attend.  There is no guarantee that he will be able to avoid getting you charged with a FTA; however, I guarantee you that do not contact your attorney, and you simply do not appear, the court will issue a warrant for your arrest for your failure to appear and you may be held without a bond until the court decides to bring you from the jail to court for a hearing on both your original charge and your new FTA charge.

Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties.  He works in many areas, including criminal, personal injury, landlord-tenant, probate, and estate planning. Visit for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.