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  • Criminalization
  • Letter

Missed court appearances can predispose an individual to facing court fines/fees, risk of incarceration, or other punitive measures such as preventing access to SSDI benefits. The consequences of missed court dates can exacerbate economic inequality, prolong involvement with the criminal justice system, lead to driver’s license suspension, restrict voting rights, and damage credit. Furthermore, people with legal debt are more likely to have other types of debt as well, particularly medical debt. Black and Hispanic adults, low-income adults, and people with less education have been shown to be disproportionately affected by legal expenses.

This letter can be used to advocate for your patient who has missed a required court appearance due to an underlying physical or mental health condition and is at risk of legal punishment such as court fines/fees, incarceration, or another punitive measure.

Example language to use in the letter:

Please list the medical and mental health conditions that you believe contributed to your patient’s missed court appearance. It is reasonable to list the patient’s entire medical history here. For example:

  • “hypertension, chronic kidney disease, head and neck cancer, and depression.”
  • “post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, type II diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis.”

Please describe any improvements the patient has made to their overall health or life. This is your opportunity to describe your patient’s strengths.For example:

  • “(Patient name) has recently done a remarkable job of “adhering to appointments and medications, exercising, and eating healthier.”
  • “(Patient name) has recently done a remarkable job of “taking medications, caring for family members, and remaining in recovery from substance use.”

Documents

  1. Missed Court Appearances Letter Template
  2. [For Lifespan Providers] Letter Template with Lifespan Letterhead

Next steps

Instruct your patient to take this letter to his/her/their attorney, who will then determine whether and how to present it to the judge.