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New Text Messaging App Designed to Help People Show Up in Court

May 30, 2019
By Laura Stotler - Virtual Office Resource Contributing Editor

A new text messaging system designed to remind people of their scheduled traffic court dates is being piloted in San Mateo County, CA (News - Alert). The “Wise Messenger” project was created by the Stanford Law School’s Regulation, Evaluation and Governance Lab (RegLab) in partnership with the’s Legal Design Lab. The system enables court and legal services groups to send out automated messages to their clients, reminding them of scheduled court dates.

The project was created to help reduce the number of “failure to appear” charges in the U.S. while also helping people to fulfill their obligations to the courts and avoid hefty fines. It has been in development for several years, with input and collaboration from judges and legal advocates alike. The main premise of the Wise Messenger project is that many people simply don’t use snail mail or even phone calls as their main mode of communication, rendering these methods ineffective for reminding people of their court obligations and the consequences for missing them.

According to Pew (News - Alert) Internet, texting is the most frequently used app on smartphones, with 97 percent of Americans using it at least once a day. Given those statistics, Wise Messenger should have a broader reach and much higher engagement rate than previously used methods of communications. Missed court dates impact those expected to appear, who face penalties and fines. The problem also has negative ramifications for the courts along with increased workloads for court employees and law enforcement.

“Our broad research question is, ‘Are text message reminders effective in getting people to appear for important legal dates?’” Margaret Hagan, director of the Legal Design Lab and lecturer, told the Stanford Daily. “These are cases where if you don’t show up, you are going to be facing penalties, especially in criminal court. It shouldn’t be that hard [or] that expensive to [give] people a reminder, a push, before an important key date.”

By improving appearance statistics, the project hopes to ultimately impact procedural justice throughout the entire system through fairer legal outcomes. Wise Messenger offers the ability to send push notifications, including court details like appearance date and location as well as information on what to expect and how best to prepare. The application was built on the Twilio (News - Alert) cloud communications platform to ensure security, automation and ease of use for both courts and traffic court defendants.

“We used Twilio because it has some great features [allowing the program to run with virtually no human input],” said Metin Eskili, software developer at the Legal Design Lab and Wise Messenger’s chief technologist.

The system has already been trialed in divorce courts in Orange (News - Alert) County, CA as well as through the Maryland public defender’s office. The San Mateo court trial will be completely automated, and users will have the option to opt in or out of sharing their contact information. Of those who opt in, only some participants will be randomly selected to receive anonymous, automated messages from Stanford. Researchers are also looking at other courts that may be interested in trialing the technology.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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