The Aurora Municipal Court building is pictured Jan. 14, 2022. (Faith Miller/Colorado Newsline)
Nowadays, it’s common to receive an automated text message a few days before the appointment you scheduled weeks or months ago — and might have completely forgotten about.
That text might say something like, “Hey, you’ve got a dentist appointment next Tuesday at 9 o’clock,” said state Sen. Pete Lee, a Colorado Springs Democrat.
Forgetting your dentist appointment might leave you with a sternly worded voicemail, a no-show fee or a worsening toothache. But even though failure to appear for a court date can come with much more serious collateral consequences, no-show rates hover around 10% to 30% in U.S. criminal courts. So, Lee sponsored a bill three years ago aiming to make those important appointments easier to remember, and he’s now proposing an update to that 2019 legislation.
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Senate Bill 19-36 — which also included Sen. John Cooke, a Greeley Republican, along with Reps. Adrienne Benavidez, a Denver Democrat, and Terri Carver, a Republican from Colorado Springs, as lead sponsors — required the state court administrator to implement a court text reminder program in district, county and municipal courts by July 2020.
This included at least two texts reminding defendants of all criminal and juvenile court appearances with at least the date, location and time of the court appearance, as well as court contact information. Courts also had to provide notifications of unplanned court closures, such as those for inclement weather.
“I typically ground bills in best practices and data-driven practices,” Lee said, “and what we know is the main three reasons that people miss court dates is No. 1, they forgot; No. 2, they don’t have transportation; or No. 3, they don’t have child care.”
But since court reminders were implemented, Lee and his colleagues identified a problem: The program is opt-in only.
“When you get your ticket, they would say to you, ‘Would you like to be notified by court text?’ And if you say no, then you’re not,” Lee explained. “So what we’re doing this year is providing that you automatically will get that court text reminder unless you specifically say you don’t want it, so it’s an opt-out.”
The bill to do that, Senate Bill 22-18, was introduced Wednesday and assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Its first hearing date had not been set as of Friday.
Besides Lee, SB-18’s sponsors include Cooke, Benavidez and Rep. Matt Soper, a Delta Republican.
The bill would require the court text reminder program to provide at least three reminders — one more than what’s currently provided — including one reminder the day before the court appearance. For virtual court appearances, the final reminder must include a video conferencing link. The legislation would necessitate that the program send reminders by text messages, but allows for an alternative method if a defendant can’t receive texts.
County Sheriffs of Colorado, an organization that advocates for law enforcement and public safety personnel, signed on in support of SB-18.
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