Alcohol Monitoring Systems

Electronic monitoring via various alcohol monitoring systems has become very popular with judges throughout Oregon. As the technology has become more readily available, at a lower cost, and with less bulk, judges are increasingly turning to electronic alcohol monitoring for defendants on release for pending DUI charges, and for defendants on probation following conviction of DUI charges.

SCRAM Bracelet

SCRAM Device

The most common device is the SCRAM bracelet (SCRAM standing for “Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring”). The device works by being mounted on a person’s leg using a strap that– if tampered with– notifies the agency monitoring the device that the device has been removed or tampered with. The device measures transdermal emissions of ethanol alcohol and then transmits a signal to a receiver typically installed in the home of the person being monitored. The receiver then uses a home phone line to occasionally call the monitoring agency to report whether or not the bracelet has detected alcohol. The receiver will also report if the transmitter fails to transmit to the receiver of a period of time (typically a few days, possibly indicating that the person wearing the device has fled or has otherwise not been allowing proper monitoring).

SoberLink Device


The SoberLink device is a hand-held breath-testing device (aka “breathalyzer”) that is also used for alcohol monitoring. Unlike the SCRAM device, the SoberLink device isn’t fastened to your body, and this can be a good option for people who engage in a lot of physical activity at work, people who find the SCRAM device to cause irritation to their skin, or people who otherwise cannot physically have something strapped to their body 24/7. The device takes a photograph of the test subject (to prove identity). The SoberLink is either pre-programmed to request breath tests throughout the day (at specific times or random times), or can be activated remotely by a supervising agent or agency to request a breath test on-demand. Lastly, another advantage of the SoberLink device is that– unlike the SCRAM device– the test subject does not need to have a dedicated cell phone or landline to report to a supervising agent or agency. The SoberLink uses it’s own cell connection to report test results.

Soberlink Wireless Alcohol Monitoring
From a Soberlink email, “Since 2011 Soberlink has offered a modern approach to alcohol monitoring. A partnership with Verizon offers consistent and secure service and gives Soberlink’s robust system connectivity all over the world. The intuitive Sober Sky WebTM Portal works in conjunction with a Breathalyzer Device. To make the breath testing process as seamless as possible, Soberlink offers comprehensive in-house support.”

There are advantages and disadvantages of using alcohol monitors. One of the clear advantages is the fact that a defendant can remain generally free and unrestricted on release pending resolution of their case without having to be confined to jail, on house arrest, or without having to post a large amount of money for security (often referred to as “bail”). Typically, a defendant wearing an alcohol monitor can still work, and attend personal, social, or family events. Another advantage when compared with scheduled or random UAs (urinalysis testing) or hair testing is that alcohol monitoring doesn’t require trips to a collection site or lab. A significant advantage of alcohol monitoring when a defendant has a pending case is that the data being collected 24/7 by the alcohol monitor can often be used to the advantage of the defendant later in plea negotiations or at sentencing. For example, a defendant who has been wearing an alcohol monitor for a month will have objective evidence to show the prosecutor or the court that the defendant has not been drinking. There also may be a short-term advantage to the defendant  in that the device will “keep the defendant honest.” The deterrent effect of having the device report any alcohol consumption may provide an added incentive to some defendants to refrain from drinking.

There are however some disadvantages to electronic monitoring. The SCRAM devices are not particularly bulky, but they are typically mounted on the leg. This can be embarrassing and require the user to wear pants if they want to be discrete with the unit. The units can also make some brief noise when they collect a sample (comparable to the sound of an aquarium pump) which can be distracting and embarrassing at work or in social situations. For defendants who do a lot of running or cycling, the units can cause chaffing or other physical discomforts. The receiver also requires that a land-line telephone line be available. This line is needed for the receiver to call the monitoring agency to report on test results. With so many people now using cell phones as their primary form of communication, many people don’t even have a land line. In such cases, a defendant wanting to make use of an alcohol monitoring device would have to have a land-line activated or installed in their house or work. The SoberLink device is arguably less-intrusive than the SCRAM device, but if the device demands a breath test during work hours, during an important personal event, or in the middle of the night, it can still be embarrassing or burdensome.

Probably the greatest problem or disadvantage to alcohol monitoring is the cost. The devices are typically leased from county agencies at a cost of around $12 per day. Wearing the device for a week or two may not be expensive, but wearing it for a month or two can be considerably expensive– especially when one factors in the monthly cost of having a land-line. Then again, many people find the expense of alcohol monitoring more acceptable when compared with the alternative of jail or house arrest.

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