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If Your Witness Doesn’t Show Up for Court, What Happens?

Witness Fails to Appear

In a criminal case, witnesses are often critical – to both the prosecution and the defense. A witness can provide important testimony, such as giving a defendant an alibi. So what happens is they don’t show up for court?

If a witness is legally obligated to appear in court through a subpoena, they could be charged with contempt of court if they do not appear. While there are valid reasons for a witness to get out of a subpoena, if they don’t show up, they could be charged with contempt – a misdemeanor offense.

At the Law Office of Amy Chapman, we work with our clients to put together the strongest possible defense to the charges against them. Our goal in each case is to help our clients achieve the best possible outcome to the charges against them. If you have been charged with a criminal offense in Santa Rosa, California, give our law firm a call to schedule a free initial consultation.

What Happens If a Witness Doesn’t Appear in Court?

In a criminal case, witnesses are usually subpoenaed to appear in court to testify. A subpoena is an order for a witness to appear in court. In a criminal case, a subpoena can be signed and issued by a magistrate or judge, a district attorney, a district attorney investigator, or a criminal defense lawyer who represents the defendant.

A witness must be personally served with a subpoena for it to be considered valid under California law. If a witness doesn’t appear in court after being personally served with a subpoena, they could be arrested for contempt of court.

If a witness fails to appear after being subpoenaed, then they could be fined, jailed until they comply, the proceedings end, or are charged with a violation of a court order (contempt of court). Contempt may either be civil or criminal. Typically, civil contempt is used to pressure a witness to testify, while criminal contempt is used to punish a witness who fails to show up or refuses to testify.

Witnesses who are charged with either civil or criminal contempt are entitled to certain constitutional protections, such as the right to consult with a lawyer. Criminal contempt is a misdemeanor offense that is punishable by up to a year in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.  A victim of domestic or sexual violence cannot be jailed for refusing to testify.

Can a Witness Get Out of a Subpoena?

In some cases, a witness can lawfully avoid testifying in a criminal trial. If you have been subpoenaed in a criminal case and do not want to testify, you may be able to work with the prosecutor or defense attorney to figure out an alternative to appearing in court. 

Valid reasons to get out of a subpoena may include:

  • Did not receive or was not personally served with a subpoena;
  • Medical emergency
  • Family emergency
  • Self-incrimination (5th amendment)
  • Privilege

Importantly, even if you have a good reason to not testify,  you can still be held in contempt of court if you do ignore the subpoena. If you have been served with a subpoena to testify in a criminal trial in Santa Rosa, CA and you do not want to testify, your best course of action is to contact a criminal defense attorney who can help you work with the prosecutor and/or lawyer for the defendant to see if you can avoid going to court.

Have You Been Charged with a Crime? Reach Out Today.

When a witness fails to appear in court or otherwise refuses to testify, they can be held in contempt of court. A criminal defense attorney can help you understand your subpoena witness rights, and what will happen if a witness fails to appear in court.

Based in Santa Rosa, the Law Office of Amy Chapman is dedicated to upholding the constitutional rights of our clients. We aggressively advocate for people charged with all types of crime, from petty theft to serious and violent felonies. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation with a California criminal defense lawyer, give us a call at 866-945-7464 or fill out our online contact form.

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Law Office of Amy Chapman

Santa Rosa Criminal Defense Lawyer

703 2nd Street

Suite 407

Santa Rosa, CA 95404

Phone: (707) 636-3207

Monday - Friday, 8am - 5pm

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