Taking the Court to the People: Real-World Solutions for Nonappearance

While many still assume that most defendants who fail to appear for court (“FTAs”) are willfully evading the law, nonappearance occurs for a variety of reasons, and most FTAs are pre-adjudicated misdemeanants, not convicted felons. This common mischaracterization is dangerous. If FTAs are seen only as criminals, then they deserve retribution, not rehabilitation. This Note attempts to reframe the problem of nonappearance as an access-to-justice issue in order to draw attention to the responsibility of courts to make themselves accessible to local clients. Through this frame, this Note presents data on the composition of FTAs and demonstrates the effectiveness of two strategies recently enacted by Arizona courts to improve court appearance: reminding defendants of their court dates, and extending court access and hours. Ultimately, this Note argues that court inaccessibility contributes to the problem of nonappearance and challenges courts to develop real-world solutions.