SCRAMbling for change: Tools to mitigate consequences in serious DWI cases

DWIs are perhaps the most complex misdemeanors this firm handles on a regular basis. While every case, from speeding tickets to homicides, is different, Driving While Impaired cases involve a great deal more thought, investigation, and preparation than most people would expect. The lawyers in this firm work diligently in representing our clients, but one important facet of our job is making sure that our clients are in the best position possible if they are convicted.

There are three types of factors that judges look at when sentencing DWIs: grossly aggravating factors, aggravating factors, and mitigating factors. The most common grossly aggravating factors are driving on a license revoked for an impaired driving offense, a previous DWI conviction within 7 years of the current offense, and having someone under the age of 18 in the vehicle at the time of offense. The presence of even a single grossly aggravating factor is enough to push a client’s sentence into the grossly aggravated range.

DWIs in the grossly aggravated range are serious matters. Conviction of a DWI in this range results in long-term revocation of your driver’s license, supervised probation, a hefty fine, and the real possibility of jail time. While we are not able to reduce all of these consequences, we do have tools that can help eliminate or lessen the amount of time clients spend behind bars.

Attorneys at Kurtz & Blum have long advised that clients charged with grossly aggravated DWIs seek in-patient treatment if they are able to do so. North Carolina law allows judges to give DWI defendants credit for time spent in a licensed North Carolina treatment facility in lieu of jail time. In other words, for every day spent in an in-patient treatment facility, a judge can give a defendant one day of jail credit. However, in-patient treatment isn’t an option for all of our clients. Sometimes it is because they can’t afford to take that much time off from work. Sometimes it is because their health insurance won’t cover a stay in a treatment facility. Sometimes it is because obligations to their family leave them unable to go away for any length of time. Regardless of the reason, in-patient treatment is not a “one size fits all” solution.

More recently, we have begun to recommend the use of SCRAM bracelets. SCRAM, which stands for “Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring,” is a viable alternative to in-patient treatment as a tool to reduce jail time. SCRAM bracelets are worn around the ankle and are used to monitor whether someone has been consuming alcohol. Every hour, the device takes an air sample from around the ankle, and measures the level of alcohol in a subject’s sweat. The bracelet collects and stores this data until it is uploaded via landline. Under North Carolina law, a judge can reduce the active jail time a DWI defendant is sentenced to if that defendant wears a SCRAM bracelet for 120 straight days. There are currently two companies offering SCRAM services for people charged with DWIs: Reliant Monitoring Services and Rehabilitation Support Services, LLC. Both companies have locations in the Raleigh area.

In addition to helping a client with sentencing for their DWIs, SCRAM bracelets offer flexibility that isn’t possible with in-patient treatment. With a SCRAM bracelet, clients can still go to work or school, and they are able to take care of their households and families. A SCRAM bracelet can be helpful to clients on the road to recovery for alcohol addiction, as it provides an added incentive not to relapse.

SCRAM bracelets aren’t for everyone. For one thing, it isn’t cheap to participate in this program. SCRAM currently costs $75 for installation and anywhere from $10-$12 a day for monitoring. For a 120 day monitoring period, this means that a client could end up paying as much as $1515 to wear a SCRAM bracelet. Furthermore, SCRAM is not covered by health insurance like in-patient treatment sometimes is, so for some clients, it actually makes more economic sense to spend time in an in-patient treatment facility as opposed to participating in SCRAM. Finally, credit is only given for successfully remaining alcohol free during the monitoring period. It’s unfortunate, but there are times when a client is too deep in the throes of addiction to be able to effectively utilize a SCRAM bracelet.

An in-depth analysis of DWI sentencing requires more than a simple blog post. While the information provided here is a good starting point, it is no substitute for consulting with a practicing DWI attorney. A practicing attorney can help you choose which treatment options are right for you and your particular case, and let you know the pros and cons of each choice available to you. In the case of a grossly aggravated DWI, it pays to have someone in your corner.