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Using the SCRAM Bracelet in a Domestic Context

All domestic attorneys are occasionally confronted with clients that seem to have all the facts stacked up against them. Whether it's a client that has committed adultery or has been convicted of domestic assault, domestic attorneys are often faced with difficult job of minimizing the damage and downplaying the weaknesses of their own case. There is now a tool for one particular case that often arises in the domestic context.

Imagine a custody case where our client has been arrested for a DUI, or even worse, the incident occurred when the child was in your client's custody.

The other party is sure to file for a custody modification or use the conviction against your client in an initial custody determination. How do you combat the allegation that your client is a dangerous drunk and should only see his children in a supervised setting? Do you tell the client to admit their problem and ask for forgiveness or do you argue this is an isolated event and uncharacteristic of your client? Enter the Secure, Continued, Remote, Alcohol Monitoring (SCRAM) bracelet.

First introduced in 2003, the SCRAM bracelet is a lightweight device attached to the ankle that measures the intake of alcohol every thirty minutes by reading the ethanol vapor in the perspiration in the air above the skin. It then sends the results to a central database where the data is analyzed and interpreted by trained technicians. The device is tamper proof and can also be used as a home monitoring system to provide accountability to people on house arrest.

SCRAM is being used regularly in criminal cases to supervise defendants while on probation for an alcohol related incident or while the defendant is driving on a restricted license. Juvenile and Domestic Relations judges are using the bracelet to monitor at risk and repeated offenders where alcohol is present. Virginia counties use SCRAM commonly in cases where a DUI would normally result in jail time, usually repeat offenders. Instead of jail, the defendant is given the option to wear (and pay) for the SCRAM bracelet. The introduction of the SCRAM bracelet has eased jail overcrowding and saved counties the cost of incarcerating by passing the cost of rehabilitation/punishment to the defendant.

The SCRAM bracelet is not familiar amongst domestic attorneys. However, judges may start using the advantages of the SCRAM bracelet in civil context. In a recent Fairfax County case, a father was convicted of a DUI and the mother immediately filed for a custody modification and an emergency custody motion to prevent the father from exercising his visitation rights. The Circuit Court judge ordered the father to wear the SCRAM bracelet until a final hearing could be held. At the final hearing the judge denied a visitation modification and ordered the father to wear the SCRAM bracelet until his probation for the DUI ended, presumably signaling to both parties that if the father consumed alcohol while on probation a modification would be warranted.

So, should a domestic attorney recommend their client wear a SCRAM bracelet? Depends on the client. The pros are obvious; if successful, it can show to a judge that your client does not abuse alcohol and the DUI was in fact an isolated event. The cons include the cost (about $12/day), public embarrassment (it is impossible to hide if wearing shorts) and the risk that your client does have an alcohol problem and caring for the children in an unsupervised setting would put the children at risk. At the very least the decision should be the clients. If they believe they can remain alcohol free then they should be given the opportunity to prove it. Should your client opt to wear the bracelet and fail to remain sober it will most likely be discoverable either through financial documents showing the charges or a simple and direct

The SCRAM bracelet is a tool that should be considered by domestic attorneys faced with the complicated task of proving a client does not have a drinking problem.

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