In a civil case, court appearances can be handled almost exclusively by the attorneys. Whether you’re a defendant being sued, or a plaintiff doing the suing, the attorneys – with the consent of the parties – can make virtually all appearances without the actual parties being present. (Of course, attorneys need to get consent from the parties to do so, and to make various representations.)
However, in criminal cases in many states, including North Carolina, a defendant must almost always be present, even for the most mundane or administrative court date. Failure to appear will result in a… FTA or called & failed which can result in many cases in an order for arrest.
This requirement to appear is in place even though the defendant is presumed innocent.
In certain cases, an attorney may be able to excuse his client or a client can sometimes waive an appearance. But this is usually done with the consent of the District Attorney, and with leave from the Court.
The problem is, as David Feige wrote recently in the New York Times:
Statistics for courts in the Bronx are hard to come by. But in 2011, according to a report by the Criminal Court of the City of New York, it took over 400 days, on average, in the city’s other four boroughs to bring a case to a jury trial and verdict — with cases in Brooklyn taking nearly 600 days. That same year, defendants in New York City (with the exception of the Bronx) were required to make 906,243 court appearances — which ended in a mere 506 jury trials. Defendants spent the overwhelming share of those court dates just waiting for their cases to be resolved.
While the numbers are different in Wake County – the typical misdemeanor probably takes fewer days to resolve, except in the case for certain Driving While Impaired offenses – there are significant economic costs to defendants who are otherwise presumed innocent – lost wages, even lost jobs, babysitting expenses, travel expenses, and so forth.
In addition, the crammed courtrooms are difficult to manage and overwhelming to attorneys, DAs, judges, and citizens alike. A better approach would be to make routine court dates optional for the defendant… unless something was going to be resolved through a trial, plea, or deferral agreement. The result would save both the state and county money, and would keep the court system functioning more smoothly. At the same time, it would keep defendants from losing jobs, work, and money.