By David Schuman

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A new app being used in Hennepin County could keep people out of jail.

The county’s public defender’s office is partnering with Uptrust, a two-way messaging app specifically for defense attorneys and their clients.

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Mary Moriarty, Hennepin County’s chief public defender, sees Uptrust as a crucial reminder service for clients so they don’t miss court appearances. She says clients mostly miss court dates for innocent reasons, such as losing paperwork or not having transportation or daycare.

“[With Uptrust] a lawyer could be standing in court and the client isn’t there, and then the client can text them, ‘My bus is late,’ and then the lawyer can tell the judge what’s going on,” Moriarty said.

(credit: CBS)

When a client doesn’t show up to court, Moriarty says a judge will likely issue a warrant for arrest. County data shows those arrests lead to an average of two days in jail, which can be enough to seriously disrupt someone’s life.

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Missed court appearances can cost taxpayers, too. A day in jail costs more than $150. Between that and having to reschedule after wasting time waiting in courtrooms, Hennepin County estimates missed appearances cost taxpayers nearly $1.5 million in 2017.

Seann Riley is Uptrust’s director of public defenders partnerships.

“In addition, police departments have better things to do,” Riley said. “Running after people, you know, who have forgotten their court dates is probably the last thing that the police want to be doing.”

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Uptrust says it’s led to a 50% reduction in missed court dates and prevented thousands of nights in jail since it launched four years ago.

David Schuman