HANCOCK COUNTY, Ind. — Hancock County’s prosecutor is raising awareness of the potential consequences of not showing up for court.

Hancock County Prosecutor Brent Eaton said more defendants are missing court than before the COVID-19 pandemic. He says it has been common for defendants to cite health conditions as a reason for missing court without providing documentation.

The issue goes back to the COVID-19 pandemic. Eaton said it changed the way the court system operated in Indiana. In-person court appearances frequently changed to Zoom sessions or participation by phone.

“We were among the very few jurisdictions in the country that never closed operations during that time,” said Eaton. “We always kept things moving. Thanks to technology and dedication of our Courts and Deputy Prosecutors, we were able to keep the justice system operating every single day.”

During the pandemic, Eaton said defendants who had been in the habit of appearing in court for hearings became accustomed to being able to do so remotely, or not at all.

“This is an area that hasn’t returned to a pre-pandemic normal,” said Eaton. “When people don’t show up for their court appearance, it delays case resolution and accountability. “Unfortunately, justice delayed is frequently justice denied.”

Even when people don’t show up to court, Eaton said a warrant is issued for their arrest. However, this does not carry any additional criminal penalties. When they are picked up on the warrant, the case usually starts back up where it had been before.

“This is going to change in Hancock County,” said Eaton.

Eaton cites Indiana code that allows for people to be charged with a crime if they fail to appear. If the case is a misdemeanor, they can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. If it is a felony, they can be charged with a Level 6 Felony. Another code allows for defendants to be charged with a Class C misdemeanor for failing to appear after being issued a summons.

“We intend to begin using these statutes to charge defendants criminally, in addition to asking for an arrest warrant for having failed to appear on their pending case,” said Eaton.

Eaton said it is important for defendants to appear in court when ordered to do so. To make sure people do, they will pursue charges more aggressively for people who fail to appear.

“I am hopeful that a greater awareness of the potential consequences for failing to appear will prevent people from doing so in the future,” said Eaton. “It would be great if attention to this would result in everyone being at Court as ordered and we never had to file a case of this type moving forward.”

While Eaton hopes that will be the outcome, they are ready to proceed if necessary.