considering a bill that would give judges throughout the state the option of using a relatively new, high-tech ankle bracelet to monitor DUI and other alcohol-involved offenders for alcohol consumption.
Passed 74-0 by the Assembly on May 4th, AB 1832, introduced by Assemblyman Rudy Bermudez (D-Norwalk), joins several other DUI-related bills that are currently under consideration. However, strong support to-date by members of the judiciary and special interest groups such as MADD, as well as the unanimous vote from the Assembly, all indicate that AB 1832 is on its way to making California the 5th state to enact a law that specifically makes use of this technology a sentencing option for the state’s courts. Bermudez, who is running for a Senate seat in Tuesday’s election, was a parole officer for more than 20 years before his election to the Assembly in 2002. He was also the victim of a drunk driver.
The language of AB 1832 is cautious in that it doesn’t mandate or restrict use of the technology to specific types of offenders or offense levels, but rather, it makes it an available tool that a court can use at its discretion when handling alcohol-involved offenders.
Currently in use in 36 states, including California, the technology — known as Continuous Alcohol Monitoring — includes a bracelet/modem combination, similar to a home arrest system. But instead of monitoring an offender’s location, these units actually sample an offender’s sweat — as often as every 30 minutes — to determine whether alcohol has been consumed. Sometimes referred to as a "breathalyzer for the ankle," courts across the country are reporting that the technology is both effective and cost-efficient when it comes to monitoring DUI, domestic violence, and other alcohol-involved offenders.
Alcohol and Crime: The California Picture
According to The Century Council, which publishes DUI arrest and conviction data, there are approximately 132,000 DUI arrests each year in the state of California. More than 25% of those are repeat offenders, and 58% are convicted of driving at a high BAC of .15 or above — nearly twice the legal limit of .08 BAC. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 28% of California’s crash costs and 20% of the state’s insurance payments are for alcohol-related crashes, the combined total exceeding $6 billion each year for California residents.
Similarly, the US Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that in two-thirds of all cases of domestic violence, the offender is drunk at the time of the offense. "The numbers are staggering," says Pat Verwiel, president and founder of Diversified Monitoring Services, which currently provides Continuous Alcohol Monitoring technology in Orange County. "The problem is drinking — the addiction. And the courts are starting to respond accordingly. If an offender isn’t drinking, then they’re not drinking and driving — or drinking and assaulting their spouse or children. It’s that simple."
Mike Iiams, chairman and CEO of Alcohol Monitoring Systems, which manufactures and distributes a Continuous Alcohol Monitoring system, agrees. "If you can effectively monitor offenders for alcohol consumption while they’re going through community-based education and treatment programs, then you can begin to really tackle the alcohol abuse problem, and help stop the cycle of drinking and re-offending," he says. "It’s not a cure-all for the DUI epidemic. But when combined with the other tools already available, it can be a very valuable tool."
In addition to vocal support from judges across the state who have been using the product since 2004, MADD-California has also issued a letter in support of AB 1832. "We share your concern for the health and safety needs of California drivers from DUI offenders," wrote California State Executive Director Paula Birdsong, in a letter to Bermudez supporting the legislation.
Who Pays for Continuous Alcohol Monitoring?
Essentially, AB 1832 will authorize a court to require a person to be placed on a continuous remote alcohol monitoring program if the court determines alcohol was the primary reason for the offense and the offender is required to abstain from alcohol as a condition of probation. According to Iiams, more than 90% of Continuous Alcohol Monitoring programs across the country are offender-funded, where the offenders pay either all or a significant portion of the daily monitoring fee, which averages about $12 a day.