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Benton County hopes to cut down on missing defendants with new notification system

Chris Lehman
Criminal defendants in Benton County will get a reminder call or text prior to their hearing date at the Benton County Courthouse. File photo.

Criminal defendants in Benton County are now getting a reminder phone call or text about their upcoming court dates.

The new system works the same way a doctor’s office might remind patients about an upcoming visit. In this case, the first notice goes out two days before a court date. A second notice is sent on the day of the hearing itself.

Sergeant Keith Hunnemuller works in pretrial services for the Benton County Sheriff’s Office. He said not showing up can quickly complicate things for a defendant.

“A lot of times they just have really minor charges and if they’d just go to court and get it taken care of, it wouldn’t take that long," he said. "And when they start not showing up, it just drags out and they can actually get a failure to appear charge. And then it just kind of snowballs.”

The Benton County Sheriff’s Department says nearly one-third of the criminal charges its office issues each year are for failing to appear. Hunnemuller said he hopes the new system will reduce that amount

Chris Lehman has been reporting on Oregon issues since 2006. He joined the KLCC news department in December 2018 and became News Director in March 2023. Chris was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and graduated from Temple University with a degree in journalism. His public broadcasting career includes stops in Louisiana and Illinois. Chris has filed for national programs including “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”