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After bail rule, how about text messages?

Scott MacMullanThe Maryland Court of Appeals this week unanimously adopted a rule that, in essence, says defendants can’t be held in jail because they can’t afford bail. If we are going to reform the criminal justice system here (and do things that make sense), it is time also to have text-message reminders for defendant’s court appearances.

A program in the New York City has recently begun doing this for minor infractions, with defendants filling out a new form to receive text reminders. Mayor Bill de Blasio of NYC has hailed this as a more efficient and fairer way to handle cases. In Maryland, missing a court date for a traffic violation might lead to a driver’s license suspension as opposed to a warrant. But that license suspension could just as easy lead to someone ending up in handcuffs should they are pulled over for that reason.

As someone who handles appointed-attorney commissioner cases from time-to-time, I see the commissioners desperately trying to ingrain the court date into defendants’ heads so they will show up – and the defendants still don’t show up.

Incorporating a court-date reminder into a smartphone might sufficiently jog a defendant’s memory so he will show up to court. Failing to appear many times causes a bench warrant to be issued, leading to potentially unnecessary police work and time. Police officers should be spending their time going after criminals, not disorganized people who don’t check their mail.

A criminal justice system that communicates to people in the same medium that people are actually communicating in is best.