From Docket to Payment: New Virtual Justice
April 29, 2022 by
Reimagining Virtual Access to Justice
Speeding down a backroad highway, in another state, I soon found myself pulled over by a police officer for the first time. My 19-year-old daughter looked on from the passenger, joyfully watching justice being served, I’m surprised she didn’t take a picture and post it to Instagram or TikTok. The officer handed me the ticket and was kind enough to tell me the name of a website to provide payment at my convenience.
While at work a few weeks later, I went to the website the officer mentioned to pay, only to realize I needed information from the actual ticket to proceed, which I had left at home. I planned to locate the ticket after work that day, but it slipped my mind.
Days turned into weeks, and I never received a notice, the original paper ticket serving as my only reminder. If the ticket had truly been lost in my home, I would have had to call the court—or more inconveniently—show up to the court, which was not even in my home state. Luckily, my daughter reminded me of the ticket’s whereabouts at home and the need to pay before the 60-day window. I managed to pay the ticket on time, avoiding any additional fees or an issued warrant, but not all traffic violators have the added luxury of a gleeful witness like my daughter by their side for reminders.
It's human nature to put things off and forget like I did, and most defendants let their tickets go well past the 60 days to resolve, sometimes as long as 90-120 days. The longer a case takes to resolve, the more resources the court uses, leading to increased backlog and a more costly and disjointed process for the defendant. Court administrators and clerks usually turns to phone calls and paper notifications to contact defendants. What if the response and recovery phases could be handled virtually? What if a defendant never had to receive a letter or go down to their local courthouse? What if courts could close cases quicker using reliable advancements in technology? Technology constantly changes the expectations of what we do from day to day, and it should be no different for courts. Remote court processing methods are becoming more readily available and easily accessible.
Post Covid-19, more and more courts are transitioning their interactions with defendants to be more customer service oriented, increasing information and resources online previously only available in person. Engagement tools, such as text messaging, provide instant accessibility to court websites and expedite the resolution process. If my ticket had a QR code on it, it could lead me to the court website to capture my cell phone number and securely grant access to receive text message reminders from my local court.
The Power of Text Messages
Several municipal courts in Texas, Ohio, and Colorado participated in program studies to streamline a text message campaign to defendants. These studies pinpointed the best verbiage to use to increase engagement and explored the impact of message frequency and the intervals of messages and time frames of responses. By simply implementing the findings from the research, courts were able to send strategic text message campaigns automatically to defendants. They saw the use of online payments increase by 40% (a 22.5% increase in online case resolution), case backlog reduced by 34%, and a 5.9% increase in appearance rates. By communicating early and often with defendants using text message reminders, cases start on a path to resolution faster and courts can save time and manual processing. The shift to a virtual process doesn’t happen overnight, but mobile phones are evolving as the dominant means of communication.
- 96% of US population own a cell phone
- 81% of those are smartphones
- Average person responds to a text within 90 seconds
- 7.5x higher reply to text than email
- 90% more likely to open a text compared to 20% email open rate
- 82% of people open every text they receive
- 80% of people check their phones within 15 minutes of waking up
With the data supporting mobile phone use and the power of text messages, if we want to say something quickly and make it easy to respond, it is best to utilize the messaging platform consumers are already using every day—and courts are following this lead. Once the defendant is engaged through text message and follows the website link, what happens next? What if the court website in the text messages provided greater resources and tools than ticket payment?
Personal Path to Justice
Perhaps a defendant wants to enter a not guilty plea, or a defendant did not have their auto insurance document on hand. New technology provides courts the ability to add more self-guided tools on their websites and mimic the workflow of in-person court proceedings. Online features such as uploading proper insurance documents, contesting tickets or requesting traffic school, scheduling a pretrial hearing with a prosecutor in virtual court, or requesting a payment extension can all aid courts in standardizing such daily operations. These features allow courts to reduce the time and resources they would normally spend on routine scenarios and processes that don’t always require their expertise and time. Virtual process solutions empower the defendant to create their own path to justice at their convenience—anywhere, any time—while simultaneously improving caseload resolution for the courts. Overall, an increase in virtual access to justice provides a more optimal outcome for everyone in the process.
Reimagine my daughter and I are back on a backend country road. Suddenly, I see the blue and red lights flashing in my rearview mirror as my daughter begins to laugh at me for breaking the law. The officer pulls me over, hands me a speeding ticket, and instructs me to use the QR code on the front, which takes me to the court website to pay the ticket.
In this scenario, I could simply point my cell phone’s camera at the QR code, navigate the court website to the proper payments space, and use my credit card to pay the ticket. The task is completed, and I avoid future teasing form my daughter.
Innovations Improve Engagement
Emerging virtual solutions give way to an ease of mind for traffic court defendants and provide resource-saving efficiencies for court administrators. Thanks to technology, courts and administrators save time and energy on call volume, manual logging, and distributing paper notifications, freeing up staff time to focus on more pertinent cases. A case can be resolved in a virtual space from the moment it lands on the docket until the final payment is made, all without the defendant ever having to leave their home. When a defendant communicates early and often with the court via the court website, they help pave the way for a quicker and more efficient resolution process.
By offering additional self-guided online tools, courts can evolve into the future and meet the growing technological expectations of their communities. Reliable and secure innovations improve engagement with defendants, advance the court system, and drive value for the community.