SCRAM Bracelets: Accuracy v. False Positives in the State of Texas

Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring (SCRAM) ankle bracelet is a type of alcohol monitoring device used either as a condition of a persons bond, or as a condition of probation. If your DWI or intoxicated-related case is pending or you are on probation, a court may require that you wear one. Other alcohol monitoring devices include the interlock device and in-home device or soberlink, but the SCRAM bracelet generally provides the most frequent alcohol monitoring, or is at least intended to do so.

Problems, however, arise with the use of these ankle bracelets, and on an experienced Board-certified DWI and Board-certified criminal defense attorney -- to note, there are only two in the state of Texas -- will be able to help you. Depending at which part of the process you are in, Doug Murphy -- one of the two attorneys Board-certified in both DWI and criminal defense in Texas -- can help you fight your DWI or related charge. Alternatively, if you have already been ordered to wear a SCRAM bracelet, he can help you if your device reports a false positive, which they have a horrible habit of doing.

When Could I be Required to wear a SCRAM bracelet?

Repeat or habitual DWI offenders are generally the recipients of a SCRAM bracelet. The sentencing judge will consider the nature of the offense and the offender and determine if alcohol consumption should be withheld for a certain period of time as opposed to an ignition interlock, that prevents you from driving while intoxicated but does not if you drink on your own time outside the vehicle. In light of the fact the judge may deem it necessary to withhold alcohol, SCRAM bracelet use is regularly accompanied by a court-ordered rehabilitation program. The combination is intended to break habitual drinkers' habits.

What are SCRAM Bracelets?

SCRAM bracelets are ankle bracelets used to measure the presence of alcohol in sweat, otherwise known as transdermal alcohol testing. If you are required to wear a SCRAM device, you must keep it on throughout the entire duration of the required time period unless you are having it refitted. The devices have been around since 2003, and since that time, they have become a popular mode to track alcohol consumption.

SCRAM bracelets are a three part system: (1) the bracelet; (2) the modem; and (3) the software. The bracelet contains a fuel cell and computer chip to store the data. The modem uses radio frequency signals to communicate with the bracelet. The software is a web-based application used to store and organize the collected data.

SCRAM bracelets are water-resistance, and there are safeguards in place in case a wearer attempts to tamper with it. The bracelet has two sides, with one side used for the ethanol sensor and the other side used for tamper-resistant technologies, and the tamper clip. The tamper clip secures the SCRAM strap and battery to your ankle, and if it is to be removed, it must be destroyed. The other tamper-resistant technologies include temperature sensors and removal detection.

These tamper-resistant technologies include:

  • Battery Removal. If you try to remove the battery and reinsert it later, SCRAM detects when the battery is inserted, so authorities will see if you attempted to remove and reinsert it.
  • Electrical Signal. There is a small electrical signal that continuously passes through the strap, so if you cut the strap, the electrical signal stops or is interrupted. This interruption is evidence you cut or tampered with the SCRAM bracelet.
  • Infrared Sensor. If you try to put something between your ankle and the SCRAM to prevent a reading, the bracelet will detect the interference. SCRAM bracelets contain an infrared (IR) sensor that shines a beam of infrared against the skin. The skin absorbs part of the beam and another part bounces back to the device. Initially, when installed, the SCRAM bracelet records a baseline IR reading, and if that reading later varies by a recognizable percentage, then it likely means that you tried to insert something and an alert will be initiated that you tried to tamper with the SCRAM bracelet.
  • Temperature Sensor. The temperature sensor takes temperature readings and monitors these temperature readings. Any variance in temperature may signify that you tried to tamper with the device by again placing something between the skin and the bracelet. Obstruction generally results in lower temperature readings.

How do SCRAM Bracelets Work?

The science behind SCRAM bracelets is rather old and simple. When you ingest alcohol, the alcohol diffuses throughout the water in your body. Thus, after digestion, alcohol is present in your sweat as much as it is present in your blood, urine and breath. As the liver metabolizes the alcohol, roughly 1% of the consumed alcohol passes through skin either via sensible or insensible perspiration. Sensible perspiration is sweat as liquid, what we commonly think of as sweat. Insensible perspiration is sweat in a vapor form, always there yet never noticed. The average person emits approximately 1 liter of insensible perspiration every day. SCRAM uses insensible perspiration to measure the ethanol gas.

The device measures perspiration every 30 minutes and the readings are transferred daily to the software for storage and organization. If alcohol is detected, three additional readings will be monitored to ensure the reading is correct or if some other element is interfering with the reading to produce a false reading. If it is alcohol, the readings will display a gradual change; if it is not alcohol, the readings will display a significant increase or decrease.

A violation report will generate upon confirmation that the SCRAM has detected alcohol. These reports include graphs along with the readings, detailed information that is frequently misread by prosecutors and inexperienced DWI attorneys.

What happens if I Violate an Order to Wear a SCRAM Bracelet?

If you were ordered by a judge to wear a SCRAM bracelet, you must comply with the order. Failure to comply, which may mean a violation report was generated, may initiate a hearing. The prosecution could argue that your bond be increased and then take you back into custody. Generally, any of the following consequences can be anticipated:

  • Imposition of original penalties (fines or jail);
  • Loss of driving privileges;
  • Loss of civil privileges (probation, parole); and/or
  • Rehabilitation (counseling, community service).

The problem, however, is what if the reading was false? It happens more than you might imagine, but most people don't fight it. They either don't know how or their attorneys don't know how, or worse, their attorneys don't know how to read the complicated reports to identify where inaccuracies might have occurred. SCRAM bracelets are known to make mistakes; nothing is foolproof even though we live in an advanced technological age.

You should make sure the violation report is read by an experienced DWI criminal defense lawyer like Doug Murphy. Located in Houston, Texas, he represents clients throughout Houston and the surrounding communities. If your SCRAM bracelet resulted in a violation report and you know you didn't have any alcohol, there's likely something wrong with the report. Doug Murphy can interpret the graphs and help you with your case.

Why are SCRAM Bracelets a Problem?

SCRAM bracelets, though they are the top of the line for such devices, still produce bad or false readings that can cause problems for someone who did nothing wrong. There is almost nothing worse than spending time in jail for a violation you did not commit. If someone would just listen to you! The police and prosecutor won't, but Doug Murphy will.

False positives happen, and they happen because alcohol is in so many of our day-to-day problems. Though the manufacturers have tried to counter this issue, the fact remains: false positives happen. If you use mouthwash, cologne or take a lot of cold medicine to get over that nasty cough, you could initiate a false positive. In fact, almost any products that have alcohol in it should be avoided, such as dandruff shampoos, hair gel, vinegar, Kombucha, etc. If you use any products with alcohol, it's probably wise to keep a list of what you use in the event a false positive puts you back in the slammer.

Can I challenge a SCRAM bracelet?

Yes, and you most definitely should. Many claims have contested the accuracy of SCRAM readings and their violation reports. If you experienced a false reading, contact Doug Murphy today. He can request a hearing and challenge the report on your behalf.

Comprehensive, Experienced DWI Lawyer in Houston, Texas

At Doug Murphy Law Firm, we devote our resources and capabilities to defend our clients' rights. We have decades of proven experience and a reputation earned in the courtroom for successful results. Attorney Doug Murphy is a Board-certified criminal defense lawyer and a Board-certified DWI lawyer who not only fights on behalf of his clients but constantly gives back to the legal community to teach other attorneys how to do the same. Contact Doug Murphy online or at 713-229-8333 today to discuss the circumstances of your case.

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If you are facing DWI or other criminal charges in Texas, contact our office today to discuss your case, so we can begin working on your defense. Please provide only your personal email and cell phone number so that we can immediately and confidentially communicate with you.

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