Among other states, including Minnesota, Louisville, Kentucky, has begun using an older but familiar technology in a new way. Similar to a house arrest ankle bracelet, the newest ankle monitors can now detect how much alcohol is in one’s system and these devices are enjoying increased attention and use in monitoring repeat DWI offenders. Currently, approximately a dozen individuals are using this technology in Jefferson County.
Jefferson County, Kentucky, Attorney Mike O’Connell says that this constant monitoring, 24-hour technology is the best he’s seen in his entire career. The ankle bracelet automatically collects, stores, and transfers the data electronically to a modem on a specific, predetermined schedule—typically every hour—where it is uploaded into a central database which notifies a monitoring agency if there are any problems, tampering, or the presence of alcohol. If alcohol or other anomaly is detected, the device increases its collection period to every 30 minutes.
This technology has proven so successful that Jefferson County officials are requesting that all repeat DWI offenders be placed in the program.
This technology is the brainchild of SCRAM Systems that has been effectively creating and marketing technology to reduce and prevent drunk driving. SCRAM, in fact, is an acronym for Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor. In 1989, SCRAM started research on transdermal alcohol testing, and in 1997, the company founded Alcohol Monitoring Systems, Inc., headquartered in Highlands Ranch, Colorado.
SCRAM’S flagship product—the Continuous Alcohol Monitoring System, or Scram Cam—was created by an engineer in his own garage and has since evolved into a product that has law enforcement, prosecutors, the judicial system, and anti-DWI organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) excited. The SCRAM Cam ankle monitor is tamper-, water-, and wear-resistant.
This technology works much like one’s nose can detect the aroma of alcohol on a drunk person; however, alcohol is detected through the skin. While transdermal alcohol testing technology is new, the science behind transdermal testing is not.
Transdermal literally means “through the skin” and this has been a known and reliable scientific method to absorb and excrete substances. In the 1920s, scientists first began testing alcohol emissions through the skin, and in 1985, Indiana University School of Medicine researchers published a couple of studies on measuring volatile substances transdermally—including alcohol excretion in human perspiration. Today, this cutting-edge research is peer-reviewed and documented, thus reducing any questions as to its admissibility under the Frye and/or the Daubert standards which seek to validate the use of newer technologies and expert testimony by ensuring the technique or theory can be/has been tested, has been subjected to peer review and publication, possesses a known error rate, is guided by controlling standards, and enjoys widespread acceptance within a relevant community. In fact, the SCRAM technology was subject to a Frye hearing, reported in a June 2006 Michigan Bar Journal article.
Legal use of the Scram Cam
In December 2006, DuPage County, Illinois, became the first court that permitted the use of these ankle bracelets. Today, at least 40 states use the technology including Minnesota. The ankle bracelet costs about $10 to $15 per day and is paid for by the defendant.
The SCRAM Cam has many secondary uses if a defendant agrees to wear the device. These include bond reduction, reducing charges, summary suspensions, and as evidence in reinstatement hearings.
Granted these devices are neither a panacea nor do they detract from other anti-drunk driving tools and systems like ignition interlock devices (IIDs) or other anti-DWI technology. They do, however, provide criminal justice system actors the knowledge as to whether repeat DWI defendants are drinking and are another weapon in the arsenal against drunk driving.