When It Snows On Your Court Date
Winter Storm Clare is forecasted to bring snow to Connecticut tomorrow. Many of us in the legal profession as well as defendants and litigants have court tomorrow. I, for instance, have a criminal case in Meriden. During this time of year I am often asked, with snow expected, whether we will have court or when will we know if we have court.
The general rule is that you have court until the court says you do not. The judicial branch posts delays and cancellations on its website, www.jud.ct.gov. Nearly everyone who grew up in the northeast remembers turning on the radio (960 AM) or TV in hope of a school cancellation at the first sight of snow in the morning. Or if it started snowing during the school day, eagerly awaiting the early dismissal announcement. While individuals judges and clerks might reschedule trials and hearings, often those involving jurors and witnesses in anticipation of snow, when it comes to criminal court, often all we can do is wait for the official announcement. There are too many cases each day to reschedule based on forecasts.
Connecticut's court delay and cancellation procedure typically works this way:
- Snow or some other weather is in the forecast. As soon as it is anticipated, people wonder if they'll get a cout snow day.
- Lawyers on my listserve complain; saying they have to travel across the state to multiple courts.
- Jurors are told not to report. Courts look out for jurors because they are going to court to fulfill their civic duty and not because they are being paid or are accused of a crime. Plus no one wants to try a case before jurors who had to wake up early to shovel and had to deal with snowy commutes to court; and the court doesn't want to waste the morning while people trickle in.
- Attorneys continue to speculate/complain about the upcoming snow. Clients try to get out of going to court.
- The state cancels prisoner transportation to courts. Attorneys and non-jailed clients groan that while the state might find our roads unsafe for prisoners, the rest of us have to play bumper cars on the highway. I think the real reason is that the governor and court administrators saw The Fugitive or Another 48 Hours and fear a prison bus mishap.
- Court is either delayed or cancelled; or it isn't and we have to deal with it.
- If court is cancelled, the clerk will notify you or your attorney of the new date by mail.
What do you do if court is not cancelled but you will have difficulty? Again, you have to attend court until the court itself (or your attorney or prosecutor if it is continued off the record) excuses you or continues it to another date. Missing a criminal court date is grounds for a failure to appear charge and rearrest warrant. The court might also (and in the case of inclement weather more likely to) issue a bail commissioner's letter which informs the defendant of the new date and warns of the possibility of a rearrest if there is a second failure to appear. Failure to appear on civil and family court events could lead to default or contempt. The best thing you can do if you legitimately cannot make it to court is let your attorney know so that he or she could get a continuance.