CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Courts Scrutinize Failure to Appear as Bargaining Chip

From Some call the “failure to appear” charge a prosecutor’s best friend because it is relatively easy to prove and can swiftly bring a defendant to the bargaining table. Others see the long-accepted but little-discussed practice of punishing late or absentee defendants as a crutch for overworked judges to maintain decorum and keep criminal cases from clogging their courtrooms.

Now such criminal charges are being challenged in Connecticut, where nearly 1 in 10 of the cases not involving motor vehicles that ended in convictions over the past five years included a conviction for failure to appear. Those found guilty of what could be a procedural misstep can face up to five years in prison.

Bringing the issue into the open is the case of Ayanna Khadijah, 34, who was convicted of the felony version of failure to appear after she failed to wake up from a nap and arrived 45 minutes late to court one day in August 2003. Her case is extraordinary because she fought back.

It was the only court date Ms. Khadijah missed among 45 sessions over three years defending herself against a set of drug charges that were eventually dismissed, in 2005. Ms. Khadijah, a single mother with a criminal history, received a suspended three-year sentence on the failure-to-appear charge. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey and hat tip from Laura Appleman]

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