Understanding and Defending a SCRAM Violation in Michigan

Note: what follows is a summary recapitulation of Michigan DUI Lawyer Mike Boyle’s CDAM presentation.  Lawyers wishing to know more about how to defend an alleged SCRAM violation may wish to review these materials for more in-depth information:

Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring, or SCRAM, is an alcohol monitoring tether that is used throughout the State of Michigan by courts, judges, and probation officers to monitor abstinence of defendants and probationers from alcohol consumption.  There are mixed views regarding the use of SCRAM as a tool to assist in sobriety and for abstinence, but more concerning is the reliability and usefulness of this device.

What is a SCRAM?

First, SCRAM is analogous to name-Kings like Kleenex or Chapstick.  There are many different types of tissues for your nose, or balm for your lips, but everyone knows your meaning when you say it.  SCRAM is the common nomenclature for trans-dermal alcohol analysis but is also the most common and well-known provider for this technique of analysis.

What does it do?

The device is about the size of deck of cards and is adhered to a subject’s leg/ankle area by a wide rubber band. It often is installed by a probation officer, or an agent of assigned company contracted to monitor the subject. It will track and report three different data points that include reading the temperature, the Infrared or IR, and the transdermal alcohol content or TAC.  Inside the device is significant number of technical and scientific parts, but summarily uses a fuel cell, like a Preliminary Breath Test, to attempt to calculate a TAC reading based upon an electronic charge from the vapor/gas known as insensible perspiration.

The basic premise is that if a subject consumes ethyl alcohol (drinking alcohol) that will be metabolized and processed through the body, but a small variable percentage will eliminate through the skin (transdermal).  When this alcohol transfers through the skin there will be a vapor that is pumped (sucked) into the SCRAM device.  This process will happen 1 time per hour unless there is a positive reading, wherein the software will then start taking samples every 30 minutes.  The scientific principle is Henry’s Law however that principle is extremely flawed for the SCRAM application.  Henry’s Law which is used throughout alcohol analysis, the DMT Datamaster for example, states that there is a correlation of the ethanol molecules in the gas above the liquid in a closed system.  SCRAM is not a closed system and therefore creates a major scientific lapse in that regard.

Regardless, the device and specifically the fuel cell creates an electronic charge based its reading which then calculates a corresponding level of alcohol content.  This reading is what is reported to SCRAM Headquarters.

What Happens if there is a TAC Reading?

SCRAM has created policy or parameters regarding receiving and reporting. First, per SCRAM, there must be 3 consecutive TAC readings to be considered an alcohol event.  If that’s the case an analyst at SCRAM HQ will ‘rigorously’ review the data.  It will be considered an alcohol event if it meets all of their parameters which include an absorption of rate of less than .10 per hour, an elimination rate of equal to or less than .035, must start at .000 and return to .000, and that it passes the internal environmental contamination test.

What are the limitations?

Specific to the TAC reading, there are two major limitations.  First, the device is not ethyl alcohol specific, which means that other types of alcohol, acetyl alcohol, isopropyl alcohol, and methanol alcohol, would also be read and calculated as ethyl drinking alcohol.  Arguably, these other types of alcohols that can be found in body washes and lotions, or in cleaning products, or in engine fluids and or gas, would or could create a different shaped peak on the graph that is created, but nonetheless, would be read.

Another significant drawback is the timing.  There are two timing issues.  First is the most obvious in the notification of the alleged event.  The standard process, even with development of an interactive app, and Wi-Fi or cellular downloads, is that an event is recorded, data is sent to the SCRAM HQ, then if confirmed is sent to the probation officer or court monitoring company, then the subject is notified and then the attorney.  Typically, a few days have passed before any notification of the alleged violation.  This prevents any confirmation test to be done.  The other timing issue is the lag.  The lag is the time from one consuming the alcohol to when the TAC would get a reading.  TAC peak readings are on average 132 minutes after a BAC peak reading and can be up to 5 hours or more to return to .000 after the BAC has returned .000.  Further, there is no reliable correlation between a BAC and TAC.  All of this lends itself to unreliable data.

What about Non-Alcohol Violations?

TAC Readings are most concerning because it indicates alcohol use, but it is also common to be violated for a Tamper. The tamper is concerning because they believe the readings were blocked to avoid a TAC reading.  Tamper violations are based upon one of the other Data points, the IR. The IR is a number that references the distance of the device to the subject’s skin, based upon the infared reflection reading.  Therefore, if something is placed in between the device and the skin the IR reading will change.  SCRAM will report it as a Tamper if there a 3 consecutive reading of 12% or more above the normal IR reading, or 17% below.  In many cases, this can be caused by an innocent mistake, a sock, a long john, boot, etc but regardless will more than likely be considered a purposeful attempt to avoid alcohol detection.

What about the Temperature Reading?

The Temperature reading by itself does not play a significant role in the process, but can help tell the story whether a drinking event, or whether a tamper was taking place.  Temperature can help the attorney understand whether a true violation or a false positive in some regard.

SCRAM has some benefits of convenience in that a client can be monitored 24/7 without having to travel anywhere to complete a test, or test at certain time.  However, there are drawbacks as well.

But ultimately, a violation of SCRAM can have significant consequences.  If you are faced with the alleged violation of a SCRAM unit contact the Michigan DUI Defense Attorneys at the Barone Defense Firm.  We have successfully handled a significant number of SCRAM cases, and well-trained knowledgeable attorney can be the difference between your freedom and your future.

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