You've been served with a subpoena to appear, but you know you are unavailable on that day. Contact the party who served you right away!
Don't be fooled into thinking that just because the judge didn't order you to appear that you don't have to show up. A properly served subpoena requires your presence just the same. Some subpoenas require you to bring yourself while others require you to bring something with you, commonly referred to as a subpoena duces tecum. In some states, only prosecutors have the power to issue a subpoena duces tecum. So, be aware that if you are testifying for the State and are served with a subpoena duces tecum by the defense, it may be challenged. If you fail to show and you were properly served (by someone qualified), then you must appear as directed unless or until you are excused. In many instances, both sides to a case must agree to release you. If you do not appear as required, a judge may require you to appear at another time and "show cause" as to why you failed to show up. If the reason isn't good enough, the judge could send you to jail for a few days to think it over.
You've been given a notice to appear or a summons and you realize you will be out of town.
A notice to appear and a summons to appear can be viewed in the same context. If you know ahead of time that you will be on vacation or have a doctor's appointment, you have options. Call the clerk's office and respectfully request to change your court date. Court dates are issued based on the date of offense or the date a case is filed. That means there are plenty of court dates to go around. You should gather your date book before calling the clerk. If he or she has to make a note in the file, they can use precise information. He or she will also need to reschedule you. So, you will need to know what dates you have available. If the clerk simply cannot reschedule you (which is rare) you also have the option of hiring an attorney who can appear for you and without you even needing to be present and continue your case to the next available court date. Of course the attorney will charge you so try the clerk option first if you haven't decided about whether to hire an attorney.
Uh-oh! You are running late to your scheduled court date.
Don't panic and just not show up. This will be about the worst thing you could do. If you have an attorney, call him or her immediately. Your attorney can take the heat while you press ahead to the courthouse. If you haven't hired an attorney yet, call the clerk's office. If the judge has already taken the bench, the clerk for your case is usually already in the courtroom. Don't just leave a message. Try to get another clerk on the phone who can pass along the message to the clerk in the courtroom. If you can't reach another clerk, call the judge's assistant who can pass along a message to the clerk who is in the courtroom. When you get there, don't try and make up a louzy excuse. Own up to it and expect to get fussed at. Usually if there are still people waiting to be called, you will be seen at and avoid a failure to appear and a warrant for your arrest. When you get to court, write your name down and give it to the baliff who will hand it to the clerk. Now just relax.
You miss a court date.
Usually, if you realize you have missed a court date on the date you were scheduled to be there, the judge may not have issued a warrant. This is because there are usually cases scheduled in the morning and in the afternoon. Warrants will usually get issued at the end of the entire day or the next day. My point is, call the clerk or the judge's assistant right away and you just might be able to avoid a warrant for your arrest and in some cases a failure to appear. If you out and out miss it and later realize you have a warrant out for your arrest or just remember later (there is likely a warrant out for your arrest), you can hire an attorney and ask them to file a motion on your behalf to withdraw the capias. You should have a pretty good reason. The best reason is that you were in the hospital. You need to have really been in the hospital though. I would definitely hire an attorney if you outright miss a court date for any circumstance other than a medical emergency.
You are in custody when you are scheduled to appear.
It seems like the judge would excuse this kind of absence, but beware most judges won't accept this an automatic excused absence. This is because if you have notice of a court date, it is your responsibility to make the date or let the court know you cannot. Be sure and let your defense attorney know if you will be incarcerated during a scheduled court date. If you have no attorney, write the clerk's office and send a copy to the judge's office. Also let the jail staff know. The judge will certainly be impressed that you are handling your business.