Wireless Breathalyzer Device Helps Keep Offenders Sober, Out of Jail
by Phaedra Haywood
SANTA FE, NM – Local judges and corrections officials have a new weapon in their arsenal of strategies to help ensure people accused of offenses involving alcohol abide by court orders to abstain.
The portable device transmits the results of breath alcohol tests to a cloud-based monitoring website, allowing judges to more safely release some offenders from jail, while still tracking whether they are complying with drinking bans.
The Santa Fe County Corrections Department began using the devices in March for offenders like Ryan Catron, a 23-year-old deaf man with a history of alleged inappropriate behavior in conjunction with alcohol use and failing to comply with court orders.
Catron is wanted on child solicitation charges in Indiana stemming from events last May. In October, he was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving. While out on bond, he was accused of another offense. In December, police say, he asked a 26-year-old woman outside a downtown bar for a ride to his car and then allegedly attempted to choke her and force her into his own vehicle.
Officers used a state police helicopter to track Catron to a field near his home in Eldorado where, after a three-hour search and a short foot chase, he was finally apprehended and charged with kidnapping and aggravated battery.
At the time, he was supposed to have been on electronic monitoring, but he had failed to show up to be fitted for the device.
Catron was booked into the Santa Fe County jail Dec. 1, 2013, where he was held on a $35,000 cash-only bond his family had no hope of posting.
Last month, his attorney, public defender Matt Swessinger, argued that Catron was a “model prisoner” who had attended 20 Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, substance abuse classes and Bible study between Jan. 3 and Feb. 11, and that his case is unique because he is deaf.
“The Santa Fe County Adult Detention Center provides Mr. Catron with a sign interpreter for classes and for one-on-one therapy,” Swessinger wrote in his motion. “Outside of those sessions, however, Mr. Catron remains completely linguistically isolated. The additional hardship suffered by a deaf inmate should be considered by the Court when setting bond.”
He recommended electronic monitoring, saying, “So long as the defendant maintains sobriety, he poses no danger to the community whatsoever.”
District Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer reset Catron’s bond to $55,000 — $35,000 for the charges pending against him in New Mexico and another $25,000 for the charges he faces in Indiana — but agreed to allow his father, Dennis Catron, to post only 10 percent of the bond, and ordered Catron to be fitted with a GPS device that tracks his movement within 100 feet.
She also ordered Catron to be tested for alcohol use throughout the day with the Soberlink Cellular, a handheld cellular blood alcohol level tester. Offenders receive a text message and blow into the device, and the results are wirelessly submitted in real time to a monitoring website via a private Verizon cellular network.
Santa Fe County Corrections Department program manager Tino Alva said the device — which weighs about half a pound and isn’t much larger than a smartphone — is “the newest thing as far as monitoring events of alcohol usage.” It became available in 2011.
In addition to testing breath alcohol levels, the device also takes a picture of the user — which is matched against a master photo taken at setup — to confirm the identity of the person taking the test.
It’s not the only way the electronic monitoring program has to watch for alcohol use, but Alva said it does have advantages over some other methods, in part because it is mobile.
Offenders who are ordered to have ignition interlocks installed in their vehicles, on the other hand, can opt not to drive if they want to drink or to drive another vehicle, he said.
And other units — such as the Transdermal Alcohol Detection bracelet, which can constantly measure the alcohol content of a person’s sweat — need to be connected to a land line to transmit data to his office. Because many people no longer have land lines, Alva said, TAD users would have to come into the electronic monitoring program office to download data from the device every 24 hours, allowing long periods of time during which people can offend without anyone immediately knowing.
Alva said the Soberlink Cellular also works better for people whose terms of release allow them to work or go to school.
People who are required to use the Soberlink Cellular must keep the device with them at all times. If they don’t test on time, Alva said the device sends an alert to his office, so there are no long gaps during which the person might have a chance to drink.
“With the Soberlink, if you have a scheduled test, you have to take it,” Alva said. “Otherwise, guess what? It’s a call to the judge.”
The cost to local residents and those whose crimes were committed in Santa Fe County is $9 per day if they are employed. Those who committed crimes outside the county must pay $20 per day. People who are unemployed are not charged for the device.
Alva said the county pays BI Inc., the entity that supplies the devices, about $7 per day for the use of each device. The cost of replacing one that is lost, stolen or broken is $800, a cost that Alva said is passed on to the user.
Alva said about 39 of the approximately 200 people currently being monitored by his office are using the Soberlink Cellular.
The device is used most often for people whose crimes are directly related to alcohol use, such as drunken driving, Alva said. But it’s also used to monitor people accused or convicted of committing other types of crimes, such as domestic violence, when they are drinking, he said.
According to the Soberlink website, the device also is used in private drug and alcohol treatment settings and by companies that employ people such as pilots, whose jobs require routine testing.
Original source: www.santafenewmexican.com