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Text messages bring more people to Metro Court hearings

Metropolitan Court officials say more people are showing up at their court hearings thanks to a simple and low-cost text message reminder program.

The court sent text reminders about roughly 8,600 hearings in the program’s first year, and defendants failed to show up at only 5.7 percent of those hearings, according to Metropolitan Court spokeswoman Camille Baca. That’s compared with a 12.5 percent failure to appear rate for the 101,414 hearings where no reminder was sent.

“You have your dog set for a grooming and you get a reminder, and it’s really helpful,” Chief Judge Edward Benavidez said. “It’s really easy, I think, for anybody to misplace a court date. And it can result in incarceration and fines and fees that can be easily avoided.”

Benavidez said the message service costs the court $800 annually. In comparison, the cost to issue, process and serve a bench warrant is around $100. That cost is turned into a fee that can be levied against the person who failed to appear each time they miss a hearing, not to mention that the warrant could result in arrest.

“The text is a great tool to help them get out of this situation which can blossom into $200 or $300,” Benavidez said.

Defendants who opt into the service receive two messages: The first goes out one week before a hearing and the second goes out the day before.

The program launched in April 2017 and was initially only available in traffic and misdemeanor cases, but this April the court expanded it to felony cases as well. Benavidez said the court is considering implementing the program in civil cases, too.

“I think it’s just a common courtesy that all of the courts should extend to anybody that has to deal with the criminal justice system,” he said.

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