Electronic monitoring is the procedure courts and law enforcement use in criminal cases to monitor a person sentenced to any type of home confinement or house arrest program. The procedure uses an ankle bracelet that people wear to help tell authorities whether or not they are actually staying inside their home during certain periods of the day.
Electronic monitoring is typically a condition of a person’s
Electronic monitoring systems are also used in cases involving California alcohol and drug crime convictions. In particular, SCRAM devices are used to monitor alcohol use and drug patches are used to detect traces of certain controlled substances in an offender’s body.
Offenders can generally try to obtain electronic monitoring as an alternative sentence if they are low-risk offenders who did not commit:
- a serious crime,
- a violent crime,
- multiple crimes, or
- a crime that results in a state prison term.
If an offender violates a condition of his/her monitoring program, then the judge has the discretion to:
- disregard the violation,
- impose harsher electronic monitoring conditions, or
- revoke electronic monitoring and sentence the offender to county jail or state prison.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:
- 1. What is electronic monitoring?
- 2. What crimes qualify for electronic monitoring?
- 3. How much does the ankle bracelet cost?
- 4. What if I violate the conditions of an electronic monitoring program?
1. What is electronic monitoring?
An electronic monitoring program is most often used in criminal court cases where a judge imposes an alternative sentencing method that subjects a defendant to home confinement or house arrest.1
As discussed below, electronic monitoring is also used to help authorities detect if a person is using alcohol or drugs.
As to people sentenced to home confinement, electronic monitoring requires them to wear an ankle monitor or ankle bracelet that tells authorities their location at any time. Police and courts use the bracelet to ensure that a person is abiding by the terms and conditions of their home detention.2
Through a court order, judges may subject defendants to home monitoring as part of the terms and conditions of their misdemeanor or felony probation.
In any event, house arrest and electronic monitoring are used as alternatives to imprisonment in county jail or state prison. They act as tools to help address the overcrowding of California jails and prisons.3
California uses several different types of electronic monitoring systems. These include:
- home detention monitoring,
- SCRAM device use,
- drug patch use, and
- GPS (global positioning system) tracking.
1.1 Home detention
Home detention monitoring is the most basic type of electronic monitoring.
It is typically enforced through an ankle transmitter bracelet and a home monitoring unit/electronic monitoring device. This unit can be installed as long as an offender has a power outlet and access to either a home phone line or a cellular signal. Some monitoring devices use radio frequencies.
Offenders are usually responsible for paying any costs associated with using an electronic monitoring instrument (although people are not generally excluded from the program based exclusively on an inability to pay).4
Although each law enforcement agency may work with different home monitoring suppliers (which are usually private companies), all home monitoring systems basically operate in a similar fashion. The bracelet sends a 24-hour signal to the monitoring agency that provides real-time communication of any irregularities. And because law enforcement knows where the defendant is at all times, the are usually fewer check-ins scheduled with probation- or parole officers.
- tampering with the instrument,
- a curfew violation, or
- violations of physical locale restrictions.
Note that all house arrest programs can be modified to include random drug testing, home visits, and face-to-face office visits.
1.2 SCRAM device
The SCRAM device is a type of electronic monitoring that is sometimes imposed as a California DUI penalty.
“SCRAM” stands for Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor. As the name implies, the SCRAM device is used as a remote alcohol monitoring tool.
It is also an ankle bracelet, but it does not monitoring a person’s whereabouts. Instead, this bracelet continuously monitors alcohol concentration through the skin as opposed through breath alcohol or blood alcohol. If an offender consumes any alcohol, the device alerts the monitoring agency, and the agency then notifies the applicable criminal court.
A person ordered to wear a SCRAM device is generally permitted to go and travel wherever he/she likes. The person is just forbidden from consuming alcohol.
1.3 Drug patches
Drug patches are sometimes used to monitor those convicted of violating California drug laws. These patches are removed and replaced weekly.
Once removed, they are tested for traces of
If a monitoring agency finds traces of any of the above substances, it then notifies law enforcement authorities, the applicable court overseeing the offender’s case, or a probation officer.
1.4 GPS tracking
The Global Position System (“GPS”) is sometimes used as an electronic monitoring method.
A GPS tracking device transmits location data on a 24-hour basis using commercial cellular networks. The data allows a monitoring center to create specific inclusion and exclusion zones so that it can map and track a person’s whereabouts at all times.
These particular monitoring instruments are often used to locate and supervise individuals who are placed on parole following their release from state prison.
California’s parole laws dictate that all inmates who are released from state prison shall be placed on parole supervision.5
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) oversees its own electronic monitoring program that helps track certain offenders that are subject to GPS monitoring.
These offenders usually include:
- high-risk parolees,
- parolees who have committed a sex crime, and resultingly, have been required to register as sex offenders pursuant to Penal Code 290 PC, and
- those who have been identified as high-risk gang offenders.6
2. What crimes qualify for electronic monitoring?
Eligibility for an alternative sentence, which requires the use of electronic monitoring, depends on the nature of the crime charged.
Alternative sentencing is usually limited to low-risk offenders who did not commit:
- a serious crime,
- a violent crime, or
- multiple crimes.
Eligibility is also limited to those who are not high-risk offenders that pose a threat to public safety or themselves.
People can usually obtain electronic monitoring if they:
- get sentenced to county jail (as opposed to state prison),
- are nonviolent offenders,
- have a home in or near the county where they are sentenced,
- have a home telephone, and
- agree to adhere to all the rules of supervised electronic confinement.
Note, however, as Ventura County criminal defense attorney Karthik Krishnan explains:
“House arrest is not automatically offered by the court. This type of alternative sentencing must be requested by a savvy attorney who not only knows that this type of sentencing is available but who also knows the most effective arguments to convince the judge that it is appropriate and decreases recidivism.”7
Home detention may also be available to some defendants during the pretrial phase of the case. One of the most famous examples of pretrial home detention is when Bernie Madoff was permitted to stay in his lavish apartment before entering his plea.
3. How much does the ankle bracelet cost?
The set-up fee for an ankle monitoring system is typically between $175 and $200.8
The daily fee of the monitoring device ranges from $5 to $40.9
The total cost of electronic monitoring can grow quite significant as some offenders must wear an ankle bracelet for years or even lifetimes.
4. What if I violate the conditions of an electronic monitoring program?
If an offender violates the conditions of his/her electronic monitoring sentence, that person becomes subject to arrest.10
Upon arrest, the offender will face a court appearance where the judge has the discretion to:
- ignore the violation,
- impose stricter terms and conditions of the person’s home detention, or
- revoke house arrest and sentence the offender to jail or prison to serve the remainder of his/her sentence.11
If the defendant can show the judge that the violation was a “technical violation” that was not his/her fault, the court should permit the electronic monitoring to continue. An example is having to leave one’s house after curfew in the middle of the night because of a fire alarm .
If a person is using an ankle bracelet on parole, and violates a condition of the monitoring, then the violation can trigger a parole revocation. Depending on the circumstances, if the state revokes parole, the offender will most likely be reincarcerated.12
- See California Penal Code 1203.016. For example see In re Humphrey (2021) 11 Cal. 5th 135, 482 P.3d 1008.
- See same.
- Community service is also one of the sentencing options that a judge can impose in some criminal cases.
- See California Penal Code 1203.016g PC.
- In re Dannenberg (2005) 34 Cal.4th 1061.
- Information taken from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s website.
- Ventura criminal defense lawyer Karthik Krishnan represents clients at the Ventura Hall of Justice, the Van Nuys courthouse, the Pasadena courthouse, the Burbank courthouse, the Glendale courthouse, the Lancaster courthouse, the San Fernando courthouse, and the Criminal Courts Building.
- See Kilgore, James. Electronic Monitoring Is Not The Answer: Critical reflections of a flawed alternative. 10/2015. See for example In Re Humphry (2021) 11 Cal. 5th 135.
- See same.
- See California Penal Code 1203.016. For example see In re G.C. (2020) 8 Cal. 5th 1119, 458 P.3d 70.
- See same.
- California Penal Code 3057 PC.