Failure to appear conviction reversed because of insufficient evidence

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals recently reversed a failure to appear conviction in a Knox County case, because the State failed to produce any witness that could testify that the defendant was told to appear in court on the day in question.  Under Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-16-609, a defendant commits the offense of failure to appear when he knowingly fails to appear, as directed by a lawful authority, at an official proceeding or penal institution at a specified time or place.  A defendant “knowingly” fails to appear when he does not appear after having been informed of his duty to appear in court on the date at issue.

In the case at hand, the defendant was charged with failure to appear in general sessions court.  At trial, a criminal court deputy clerk testified regarding the defendant’s warrant, the forfeiture order, and the attachment.  However, she could not testify as to the typical procedure for informing defendants of their court dates in general sessions court nor could she or anyone else testify that the defendant was told to appear on the day the defendant missed court.

On appeal, the court of criminal appeals held that the above was insufficient as a matter of law to sustain a failure to appear conviction.  Accordingly, the appellate court reversed the conviction and dismissed the charge.

State v. Smith, No. E2016-02137-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Crim. App. Aug. 18, 2017)

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