District Court map from the Iowa Judicial System.

The Iowa court system is trying a pilot project in six counties where text message reminders are sent out for some court services.

Polk County District Court Clerk, Anne Sheeley, says it helps in a couple of ways. “It just reminds people of their upcoming court dates. And then the second part of that is it also reminds people of their payment that’s due. So if they’re on a payment plan, it will remind them that their payment is due,” she says.

Sheeley says the pilot is up and running in Shelby, Sioux, Marshall, Dubuque, Davis, and her county with the hope the texts help the system run better. “And really, the goal is, you know just to eliminate failures to appear. People are busy, and sometimes they just need a little reminder,” Sheeley says.

Sheeley says having people fail to show up for a court date pushes everything back, and can lead to an arrest.
“So currently, when a defendant doesn’t show up for his hearing right now, we may send out a warrant for their arrest. You know, it could be that they just forgot yet that warrant goes out for arrest or court hearings are continued, the victim, if there’s a victim in the case, that it all becomes a bigger problem than it needs to be,” Sheeley says. “And we’re hoping that these text reminders will remind people, ‘Hey, your court hearings coming up, don’t forget about it’. And we’re hoping that we’ll see a decrease in the failure to appear.”

You have to sign up to get the text reminders. Sheeley says they have been getting a good response when they ask people if they want in. “At the initial appearance, especially at a jail court, we’re capturing those phone numbers of people and they’re their volunteering, yes, I want you to I want to be signed up for this,” she says. “And we’ve only done it in the criminal, simple misdemeanor, and traffic cases. And someday hope to expand that to all cases.”

She says they give you plenty of notice when you are due in court, sending out a text seven days before the scheduled event, then three days and then the day before. Sheeley says it’s become pretty common now to get texts from your dentist or doctor or others who you have appointments with.

She says they have not had any problems with the text system in Polk County, and anticipate the court system would expand it to all 99 counties if the pilot continues to go well.

Radio Iowa