Electronic Monitoring in Criminal Cases

Currently there a 4 types of electronic monitoring that are used in many types of criminal cases:

1)  Ignition Interlock – this is a breathalyzer that is installed in one or several vehicles owned by a person ordered to be monitored which prevents the person from starting their car if alcohol is detected.  This type of device is also used in cases in which limited restoration of driving privileges is granted by the secretary of state.

2)  Breathalyzer Monitor – this is a device that randomly monitors an individual for alcohol.  When the device makes a call to the person being monitored, he or she is required to blow into the device.  The device is also equipped with a camera to verify the identity of the person taking the test.

3)  Transdermal Alcohol Tether – this is also known as a SCRAM tether or a SCRAM bracelet.  This type of device monitors the use of alcohol through the wearer’s skin.  The device is typically is installed on the ankle of the individual ordered to be monitored.  The device also detects the wearer’s body temperature and the distance between the leg and bracelet in order to detect attempts to tamper with the unit.  If the device is removed, an alert is sent as well.

4)  Global Positioning System – this is also known as GPS tether.  This device tracks the wearer’s movement by satellites, and reports the data at regular intervals to a monitoring agency.  The system can be programmed to send out alerts if an individual is in a “hot zone” (a predetermined radius from a location where a person may be prevented from going to, such as: places where the complaining witness or victim regularly goes (home, work, school, church, etc.); places where a victim regularly goes (home, work, school, church, etc.); if the wearer is a convicted child sex offender it could monitor if he or she is in a location frequented by children (parks, arcades, zoos, etc).  In cases with a known complaining witness or victim, a notification can be sent by pager to the complaining witness or victim as to the individual’s presence at a particular location.

Electronic monitoring is not ordered in all cases.  It is usually ordered if the Judge believes that there is a flight risk, or some sort of potential danger to the community.  The type of tether used is at the discretion of the Court.  The use of a tether gives the Court assurances that the Defendant will appear at all Court dates.  In stalking cases, it gives the Court assurances that the Defendant will stay away from the complainant.  In drinking and driving cases, it gives the Court assurances that the Defendant will not use alcohol (or the Court will be immediately notified if use occurs).  Tethers are sometimes required by bail bondsmen as a condition of posting bond.

The technology is not foolproof.  It occasionally happens when a Defendant cuts off his or her tether and flees the jurisdiction of the Court.  Even with its shortcomings, tethers ease issues of jail overcrowding, give some assurances to courts and complainants, and provides a Defendant (who is presumed innocent) or a probationer with a greater measure of freedom than a jail cell.  The science behind tethers is continually evolving and improving.

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