If you are facing a DUI charge, the first option is always to fight for a set aside at your DMV hearing and/or dismissal or acquittal in the criminal court portion of the case. However, even in cases where avoiding a conviction altogether may not be possible, a good DUI defense attorney can often win you "concessions" as part of a plea deal, including wearing a SCRAM device instead of spending time in jail or paying heavy court costs.

At Los Angeles DUI Lawyer, we understand the details of how Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor (SCRAM) systems work, why they are used, and when they are likely to be included in a probationary DUI sentence. While wearing a SCRAM device around your ankle 24/7 is far from desirable, it is still far better than being incarcerated in a broken and unrepairable County Jail system. And a SCRAM device ensures that the temporary owner of the device avoids consuming alcohol while the device is worn. Our team of experienced DUI attorneys have negotiated for reduced sentences that include mandatory use of a SCRAM for numerous clients to keep them out of jail.

To learn more about the SCRAM device or for a free legal consultation on your DUI case, contact us 24/7 at 310-848-1376.

What Is a SCRAM Device?

A SCRAM (Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor) device is an electronic ankle bracelet that monitors your perspiration 24/7 to detect any alcohol that is released through your skin when you perspire. It is recent technology developed by a company called Alcohol Monitoring Systems (AMS) and marketed by various providers.

SCRAM devices are programmed to check for alcohol in your sweat samples anywhere from every 30 seconds to once an hour, but the intervals can vary randomly. The device then sends a wireless signal one or more times a day to a regional AMS monitoring center, where the data sent over is analyzed. If alcohol was detected by the SCRAM, an alert will go off, and the monitoring center will investigate and confirm the alert before notifying the wearer's probation officer and DUI court. If the SCRAM device reports you consumed alcohol, you risk a probation violation and such consequences as additional jail time, additional DUI classes, additional Cal Trans or other punishments.

How Does a SCRAM Device Work?

Whenever an individual ingests alcohol into their system, it is quickly absorbed into that person's blood stream; but the body's natural defenses will not allow it to stay there. Much of it will exit the body via the urinary tract, and some will exit in saliva, tears or exhaled air. However, a small portion of the alcohol in one's system (around one percent) leaves the body in an "ethanol-alcohol vapor" that passes through the skin along with one's sweat.

The alcohol that is emitted through the pores in your skin is too little to give off any noticeable scent, but a SCRAM device is hyper-sensitive to alcohol and able to detect it. 

SCRAMs will also detect alcohol sweated out after being ingested via mouthwash, food cooked with alcohol, soy sauce or any other source, so all sources of alcohol must be meticulously avoided while wearing it. Additionally, the device detects if someone attempts to tamper with it and resists such tampering quite well (plus reports will be generated on the tampering incident to the probation department or Court). Finally, SCRAMs are resistant to water, which makes sense since they must contact water in the form of sweat in order to function.

IIDs Versus SCRAMs

Many are familiar with IIDs (ignition interlock devices) as a sentencing element. IIDs prevent your vehicle from starting up until an alcohol-free breath sample is received by the device. While an IID can help prevent drunk driving, it cannot prevent drinking. And if someone were to use a different vehicle (perhaps, of a friend or fellow employee), he/she could theoretically still drink and drive even with an IID on their own vehicle.

Thus, SCRAM devices are more "secure" than IIDs and are mainly reserved for those convicted of DUIs who also are deemed alcoholics, repeat offenders, or habitual traffic offenders and are required to refrain from all consumption of alcohol as a term of staying out of jail.

SCRAM as a Sentencing Element

When a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th time DUI offender's sentence would normally include jail time, but the judge is willing to let him/her forego all/most of the incarceration period as part of a negotiated plea, long-term monitoring of the defendant to ensure he/she does not consume alcohol may be required.

In such cases, the presiding judge may order the defendant to purchase and wear a SCRAM device. This usually only happens, though, if an addiction to alcohol is thought to exist (based on the defendant's having a history of alcohol abuse) and when prior DUI School or other attempts at treatment have already failed.

For clarity's sake, we should mention that those who are sentenced to wearing a SCRAM device are also given a court order to refrain from all consumption of alcohol. Ignoring this court order risks detection by the SCRAM device and a harsh jail term.

However, it is also important to note that those sentenced to wear a SCRAM device are almost always also ordered to complete some type of DUI class or alcoholic treatment program as well. The idea is to both keep you from drinking and to help you learn to stay sober for reasons other than the presence of the SCRAM device around your ankle, so you will truly recover and not put others or yourself at risk in any future DUI incidents.

While having a SCRAM affixed to your ankle 24/7 is certainly undesirable, it is much better than being locked behind bars 24/7. Thus, SCRAM programs are a lenient, alternative sentence that can reduce/eliminate incarceration requirements.

Also note that as SCRAM programs are not equivalent to "house arrest," wearers can freely come/go to work, school, and other places. The only requirements are to avoid drinking alcohol and not remove or tamper with the device.

How Long Must I Wear the SCRAM Device?

It is possible for the presiding judge to sentence a defendant to any period of time for wearing the SCRAM device that he/she decides, but almost always, the period will be between 30 days and 12 months.

Occasionally, someone may be sentenced to more than a year, but practically never less than 30 days since SCRAM programs are intended to be a long-term solution. After all, who could be certain that the wearer had overcome an addiction to alcohol after less than 30 days of wearing the SCRAM device?

And note that the more serious the defendant's addiction to alcohol is and/or the more serious the DUI incident is, the longer he/she will likely be required to wear the SCRAM bracelet.

How Much Does the SCRAM Program Cost?

Though in certain rare cases the court may agree to pay a portion of the cost of the SCRAM program, almost always, the defendant will be required to pay the full cost. When the court does pay all/part of the cost, it is normally with a person too poor to afford the program or even the basic necessities of life.

First, there will be an installation fee when the SCRAM device is put around your ankle. Then, there will be a periodic monthly "monitoring fee." The total cost for participating in the SCRAM program in the state of California will at least be $100, but it could be as high as $12 per day or more.

Who Will Provide the SCRAM Device and Services?

AMS (Alcohol Monitoring Systems) is the sole company that manufactures SCRAM devices. They are based out of Colorado, but they have regional HQs and monitoring stations that work for Californians.

AMS will, thus, be heavily involved in your SCRAM program, but they will not necessarily be the people you directly deal with. The reason is because there are a number of different SCRAM providers who can set you up with a device, despite there being only one manufacturer.

One of the major SCRAM providers in California, called "SCRAM of California" are the number one provider in the state and cover every county. They provide not only the device and its installation but assist in monitoring as well. In addition, SCRAM of California sells devices to monitor those convicted of other crimes besides just DUI.

SCRAM of California's devices include: 

  • SCRAM CAM, for continuous alcohol monitoring.
  • SCRAM Remote Breath, for remote breath tests.
  • SCRAM House Arrest, for house-arrest monitoring.
  • SCRAM GPS, for those needing a GPS location included in their monitoring data.

Additionally, the same company will work directly with the court, with probation officers, with law enforcement officers, and others; and has its own programs set up specifically for SCRAM DUI as well as other types of defendants.

While we at Los Angeles DUI Lawyer have no interest in promoting one SCRAM company over another, we simply use the above-named company as an example of the types of devices and services you might expect to find from most providers.

The SCRAM Recidivism Study

In 2010, the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) commenced an in-depth study of how effective SCRAM devices/programs were at reducing recidivism rates for DUI as compared to other programs. The results of this study were released only in 2015, though it covered data from between 2007 and 2009.

The basis of the study was recidivism rates for those who had gotten DUIs and gone through the SCRAM program in two localities, one in Nebraska and the other in Wisconsin. The first two years following the end of the subjects' SCRAM monitoring was in view.

The study was not perfect; a need for further studies that would better isolate the effects of SCRAM from that of other programs the defendants were enrolled in and the need of a larger, more widely distributed "sample" existed. However, despite these limitations, it was a good start on studying the effects of the SCRAM program.

The results were generally positive, including the following:

  1. Of those who did commit a repeat DUI, those who had participated in the SCRAM program did so, on average, over 100 days later than those who did not. This amounted to taking 36% more time to repeat a DUI among the Wisconsin study participants and 43% more time among those in Nebraska.
  2. The likelihood of a repeat DUI decreased by over 100% among those on the SCRAM device for at least 90 days.
  3. Not even two percent of the study participants committed a repeat DUI while still using the SCRAM device.
  4. While the overall recidivism rates were slightly higher among those who were in the SCRAM program than among those who never were, it was only by a a percentage point or two (7.6% to 6.2% in Wisconsin; and 9.8% to 7.7% in Nebraska), and the NHTSA admits the difference is insignificant and negligible.

Finally, the results of the SCRAM Recidivism Study aligned fairly consistently with those of earlier, "preliminary," studies that had showed that longer enrollment in the SCRAM program lowered recidivism rates.

Thus, while further studies are needed, it seems clear that the overall impact of the SCRAM program is positive, as far as reducing DUIs. It is also positive for defendants who are able to stay out of jail and continue their normal lives following a DUI conviction. And, finally, lowering jail/prison populations and associated costs is viewed as positive by the state of California.

Contact Us Today for Help

At Los Angeles DUI Lawyer, we will fight for the best possible outcome to your DUI case and for every sentencing detail that is in your best interests. Whether it be getting a SCRAM device instead of spending time in jail, using an IID (ignition interlock device) in order to qualify for a restricted license, or any other element that improves your situation, we know how to negotiate for it as part of a favorable plea.

For a free legal DUI consultation, do not hesitate to call us 24/7 at 310-848-1376.