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What Happens if a Police Officer Fails to Show Up in Court for My Case?

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Whether in relation to a traffic ticket or criminal charges, our Greater Toronto Area clients frequently ask us what happens if the charging police officer fails to show up for the court proceedings. It’s typically a wishful thinking question, with the client hoping that divine providence will somehow prevent the officer from testifying against them. Without the officer’s testimony, the case cannot proceed, leading to dropped charges or quashing of the traffic ticket. Right?

If only it were so easy. Mass Tsang’s criminal defence lawyers have attended thousands of criminal trials, while our traffic lawyers have done likewise in traffic court. They know what might happen if an officer fails to attend court but would suggest that the more important question is, what happens if you fail to attend? With that in mind, we’ll try to answer the first question and then answer the latter one.

Reasons Police Officers Rarely Miss Court Dates

The primary reason police officers rarely miss a court date is because it’s part of their job. It’s akin to missing work and can get them in trouble with their supervisors if they don’t have a valid excuse. Absent a reasonable excuse, an officer who misses court proceedings is wasting court resources, jeopardizing the outcome of the matter, and reflecting poorly on the criminal justice system. Thus, missing a proceeding can lead the judge to rebuke the officer’s conduct, further hurting their career. Should unwarranted absenteeism from trials and/or traffic court proceedings become chronic, an officer will not keep their job for long.

The likelihood of an officer missing a court proceeding — with or without a valid reason — largely depends on the importance of the case. Minor traffic offences are on the low end of the importance spectrum, so officers tend to be more prone to missing traffic cases than they are to criminal ones. When it comes to criminal cases, the less severe the offence, the greater the likelihood — though slim — that an officer might miss trial. Police officers have a vested interest in maintaining their job performance, and most have a robust personal interest in seeing justice served. And that justice often depends on their attendance at court proceedings.

Potential Outcomes of Missed Traffic Court Dates by Police

Divine providence smiles most favourably on those attending traffic court when police fail to attend their proceedings. Traffic court judges like to maintain the relatively fast pace of each day’s proceedings and don’t want to waste court resources. The public interest in ensuring that every traffic violation is punished is also low compared to more serious offences. Thus, when an officer is not in court to provide evidence about a contested traffic citation, a judge will often be willing to drop the ticket. In this situation, the other and more likely outcome is that the Crown — knowing that the officer is not in attendance — will offer to reduce the ticket and/or its fine.

Potential Outcomes of Missed Criminal Court Dates by Police

If a police officer fails to testify at the appointed time for your criminal trial date, the Crown prosecutor will usually request an adjournment of the trial. If the prosecutor doesn’t seek an adjournment, it usually means they believe they have enough evidence to prove your guilt without the officer’s testimony. However, you still have the right to seek testimony from the officer if you believe it bolsters your defence. In this case, you have the right to request an adjournment.

As the defendant, you can either agree or object to an adjournment request. If you agree to it, the judge will likely issue the adjournment. If you oppose it, you and the Crown prosecutor must offer arguments that support your respective positions. If the judge finds your argument more compelling than the Crown’s, they will reject the adjournment and the trial will resume without the officer’s testimony. Otherwise, the judge will adjourn the case so the officer can testify later. The Crown typically has the edge in these situations, and judges will generally adjourn a case, especially when there is a valid reason for the officer’s absence.

And If You Fail to Show Up for Your Court Date

If you fail to attend your appointed traffic or criminal court date, the proceeding judge typically issues a warrant for your arrest. In some cases, such as if your defence lawyer can provide an excuse for your absence, the judge may be willing to issue a discretionary bench warrant. Under this scenario, the case is adjourned, and you will not be penalized as long as you show up for the new court date.

If you are arrested under a failure to appear in court warrant, you could be subjected to a bail hearing , which can compromise your defence efforts. Unless you have a reasonable excuse for failing to attend, you could also face Section 145 (2) Criminal Code charges for failure to attend court. The maximum penalty if convicted of this charge is two years imprisonment.

Manage Your Trial Attendance with the GTA’s Mass Tsang

Don’t run (further) afoul of the law by missing a court date. Secure the services of a competent defence lawyer, such as those at Mass Tsang. A skilled lawyer is adept at managing the flow of a case to ensure your attendance when required and proficient at getting trial dates adjourned when needed. For all your legal defence needs in the Greater Toronto Area, contact Mass Tsang today .



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