The Court of Appeals in STERLING P. EVANS v. UNITED STATES, decided on March 17, 2016, reversed a Bail Reform Act violation conviction and remanded the matter for further consideration by the trial court.

Evans was arrested and charged with possession and failed to appear for his hearing because he did not
correctly remember or recollect the date of his scheduled court appearance.

He believed he was due in court two days after the actual day due in court. Bench warrant was issued he was picked up on BRA charge and conviction subject of this appeal.

Specifically, Evans testified and acknowledged that he signed a notice-to-return instructing him to return to court on April 2. He testified thought that he genuinely believed that he was due back in court of the 4th instead.

That he had financial issues, was being evicted, and lost the notice but that he remembered the return date to be on the 4th.

The BRA Statute in part states “[w]hoever . . . willfully fails to appear before any court or judicial officer as

The Court of Appeals held that given Evans testimony it was inconclusive whether his failure to appear was willful. The trial court used an incorrect legal standard for the willfulness analysis.

Specifically the trial court concluded that “[W]hen you sign a notice and you know the date and you do not willfully check and make sure that you got the right date, is that willful?” She reasoned under the current precedent … it is the defendant’s “responsibility to check and make sure that he has the right date.”

In short, because Evans had not doubled checked his return date to make sure he had the correct date, then, responsibility was his and his failure to ascertain his return date was willful under the Statute.

The trial court legal standard and analysis thereof would have been correct under the current precedent if the defendant had not remembered the return date and had failed to check or to ascertain the date either through his lawyer or the pre-trial services agency. The failure to ascertain the date has been ruled to be legally willful supporting the conviction.

Here though the defendant testified that he remembered his trial date incorrectly – this if credible — does not legally require him to double check his return date and not doing so cannot be deemed to be willful under the statute.

Evans argued on appeal also that willfulness was not established or proven because he was arrested before April 4th, the date he believed was his court date, and moreover, Evans’ failure to appear was due to mistake on his part and again not willful.

The Court reiterated that to “establish willfulness in a [BRA] case, . . . the government must prove . . . that the defendant’s failure to appear in court when requested was knowing, intentional, and deliberate, rather than inadvertent or accidental.”

Here, the Court held that Evans’ failure to return was not willful based on the evidence presented — and reversed and remanded for the trial court to adduce further evidence supporting willfulness.

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Categories: Criminal Defense.