December 21, 2018

A Cup of Joe | SCRAM Bracelet Flushes Drunk Driver Into Debt

This weeks case is about Brian, a young man who was convicted of driving while under the influence of alcohol. Brian pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated and was sentenced to five years of probation with the first six months to be served in jail. His probation included several conditions, one of which was to wear an alcohol monitoring device that, through contact with the skin, continuously monitors alcohol intake levels. The device is called a "SCRAM bracelet," named after the company that developed it. (Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring).

The court also required Brian to pay for the cost of the SCRAM device. At the time the court imposed this condition, there was no discussion of the actual cost and whether Brian had to pay a lump sum or make periodic payments.  After serving his time in jail, Brian was told that the SCRAM device costed eleven dollars per day but failed to advise him that it could be reduced to four dollars if he had difficulty paying.

If Probation had required Brian to wear the SCRAM device for his entire period of probation, he would have owed $18,000. Even if he had the fee reduced to $4 per day, he would have owed $6,500.  Brian wore the SCRAM device for almost five months without incident. During that time, Brian lived at poverty level by working odd jobs and living rent-free in his aunt's home with his mother. Brian's mother had recently lost her job and she used her social security benefits of $652 per month to buy groceries and other necessities for the two of them. They also received meal assistance from their church food pantry. Still, Brian gave his meager earnings to his mother to help pay for the SCRAM device. At some point, Brian broke his wrist while working and it became even more difficult to pay for the SCRAM device, and so his debt mounted to the point where he could not pay anymore.  Brian’s probation officer violated him and Brian was sent to jail by the court. Brain appealed arguing that defendants cannot be forced to pay for the SCRAM Bracelet.

The Court of Appeals was asked to decide this: Can sentencing courts require a defendant to wear and pay for a SCRAM bracelet?  The Court answered, “YES.”  Here is why: The Court stated that “payment is part and parcel of the requirement that defendant wear and maintain a functioning SCRAM bracelet. To the extent the costs associated with electronic monitoring could be considered to have a punitive or deterrent effect, that effect is dwarfed by the explicit goals of [the law] to protect the public from alcohol-related offenses while assisting a defendant's rehabilitation during their probationary term. Judge Rivera disagreed with the Court’s decision, writing, “Whether such authorization is a good idea requires balancing various social and economic policies and concerns—a task solely for the Legislature.”

Brian goes to jail.

Here is the case: http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2018/2018_08538.htm

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