Three state legislatures consider programs to require courts notify defendants by text of upcoming court hearings

Bills in three states have been filed in the last month to require state courts (in particular the various administrative offices of the courts) to develop text reminder system.

Colorado SB 36 appears to be a revised version of HB 1081 of 2018.

Under the 2019 bill, the state court administrator would have to roll out a text reminder program in four of the state’s judicial districts by January 1, 2020. “In administering the program, the state court administrator shall prioritize the use of text messages to remind criminal defendants with the capacity to receive text messages, unless and until a more effective technological means of reminding defendants becomes available.”

It is not clear from the text whether defendants would opt-in or opt-out of such text messages.

Tennessee’s legislature is considering legislation (SB 740 and HB 1104) that appears to be almost a cut-and-paste of Colorado’s HB 1081 of 2018 and/or SB 36 of 2019.

The third state (Massachusetts) is placing its proposed text messaging system for courts as part of a larger omnibus pretrial release package (HB 66) which is itself a repeat of a 2018 proposal (HB 4903).

In this 2019 iteration, there is an explicit opt-out provision and confidentiality provision (“such information may not be used in any proceeding”) but these have exceptions:

1) A judge can order a defendant to participate in the text message system as part of a pre-trial release order.

2) “The fact that a defendant did or did not participate in this system shall be marked on the docket and may be used in a proceeding if otherwise admissible.”