Updated March 24, 2020
The SCRAM Continuous Alcohol Monitoring (“CAM”) system consists of a tamper-resistant ankle bracelet. The bracelet tests the wearer’s sweat for blood alcohol concentration (“BAC”) every 30 minutes. It then wirelessly transmits the results to a regional monitoring center.
Use of the SCRAM device is often ordered as a jail alternative or condition of probation in a DUI case. This lets the offender get treatment for alcohol abuse and go about his or her normal daily routine.
Or the device can be outfitted at no additional cost to perform house arrest monitoring. A SCRAM device with house arrest monitoring is known as the “SCRAMx.”
Offenses for which the SCRAM program is often ordered include:
- Driving under the influence, California Vehicle Code 23152(a),
- Driving with a BAC of .08% or higher, California Vehicle Code 23152(b),
- DUI causing injury, California Vehicle Code 23153, or
- Any other alcohol-related offense.
To help you better understand the SCRAM and SCRAMx systems, our California DUI defense lawyers answer the following frequently asked questions below:
- 1. What is the SCRAM CAM system?
- 2. What is SCRAMx?
- 3. How does continuous alcohol monitoring (CAM) system work?
- 4. Who is required to wear a SCRAM ankle bracelet?
- 5. In what kinds of cases can a SCRAM device be used?
- 6. How long does a DUI offender have to wear an alcohol-monitoring bracelet?
- 7. How much does SCRAM CAM cost and who pays for it?
- 8. Where can I get a SCRAM device?
- 9. Can the ankle bracelet be removed by the wearer?
- 10. Can I work and go to school during the SCRAM or SCRAMx program?
- 11. Will I get credit for “time served” by wearing a SCRAM or SCRAMx bracelet?
- 12. Can I shower or take a bath with an alcohol monitoring device?
- 13. What happens if there is alcohol in the environment or someone spills a drink on me?
- 14. What if I need to take medicine that has alcohol in it?
SCRAM is a remote alcohol monitoring system developed and marketed by Alcohol Monitoring Systems, Inc. (AMS) of Colorado. It consists of an ankle bracelet that a DUI offender wears 24/7. The bracelet is both tamper proof and water resistant.
The bracelet checks the wearer’s sweat every 30 minutes for the presence of alcohol. The results are then transmitted, usually on a daily basis, to a regional monitoring system. If the offender is considered high-risk, the data may be transmitted more frequently.
If alcohol is detected in the wearer’s system, the court will then be notified (usually within 24 hours).
SCRAM stands for “Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor.” It was developed by AMS in 2003. AMS manufactures the SCRAM and SCRAMx bracelets and licenses administration of the program to various local agencies.
SCRAMx is a SCRAM ankle bracelet that also contains a radio frequency (“RF”) house-arrest monitoring system. It can thus check for both alcohol use and a DUI offender’s presence in, or absence from, the home.
SCRAM devices use “transdermal alcohol testing.” “Transdermal” means “through the skin.” CAM devices work because a small portion of consumed alcohol gets excreted through a person’s skin via his or her sweat.
The way SCRAM works is this:
Alcohol in the bloodstream is ultimately eliminated from the body (excreted). Most of it is excreted in the urine. But a small amount is also excreted in the breath, sweat and saliva.1 That is why DUI breath tests, for instance, are able to detect the presence of alcohol.
About 1% of ingested alcohol escapes the body through “insensible perspiration.” This consists of a slight amount of ethanol vapor that passes through the skin. Ethanol (also known as ethyl alcohol) is the type of alcohol found in alcohol drinks.2
In other words, a person “sweats out” a small portion of the alcohol that he or she consumes. The CAM system measures this sweat through the skin of the ankle.
A defendant may be required to wear a SCRAM device whenever not drinking alcohol is a condition of staying out of jail. This is often ordered as a condition of California DUI probation.
To ensure compliance with the order, the judge may require the defendant to wear a SCRAM or SCRAMx device. This allows the court to verify that the defendant is, indeed, refraining from alcohol use.
As a practical matter, judges in Southern California DUI cases only order SCRAM when an offender has prior DUI convictions and a serious alcohol dependence or addiction.
In addition to adult DUI sentencing and probation, SCRAM is often used:
- As a condition of the bond during pretrial supervision;
- As part of a specialty court program, such as:
- As a condition of early parole in California (for offenders released early due to jail or prison overcrowding);
- To support offender re-entry programs;
- As part of a sentence or probation condition for domestic violence offenders (when alcohol was a contributing factor in their offense); and
- To help offenders convicted of violating California’s underage drinking and driving laws.
A judge can require a DUI defendant to wear the SCRAM bracelet/ anklet for any period of time. Typical periods range from 30 days to more than a year.
Factors the judge will consider in setting how much time a DUI offender must wear a SCRAM device for include:
- The seriousness of the present DUI offense,
- The number of prior DUI offenses, and
- The extent of the person’s problem with alcohol.
Generally, DUI offenders must pay for the SCRAM program themselves. But if the offender is indigent, the court system may absorb part of the cost.
Local SCRAM Systems authorized service partners may sometimes lend a small portion of their inventory to indigent offenders at no cost.
The cost to install the system typically ranges from $50 to $100. Thereafter there is a daily monitoring fee.
Average monitoring fees typically range from:
- $10-$12 per day for continuous alcohol monitoring (CAM) alone, or
- $13-$15 per day for CAM with house arrest monitoring.
But costs may vary depending on how much money the defendant makes, the monitoring period and whether there is SCRAM service provider in the defendant’s area.
SCRAM systems are available from various local service providers. A DUI offender must contact a local SCRAM service provider in California once a judge issues the order to wear one.
The SCRAM device is difficult to remove, but it can be done. However, if the person removes the device or tampers with it, it will alert the Regional Monitoring Center.
The center will then notify the court. The judge may then schedule a hearing (such as a probation violation hearing) to determine whether to send the offender to jail.
With SCRAM, yes. With SCRAMx, it depends.
The SCRAM program is not a form of house arrest. The person participating in SCRAM still can work, attend school, get alcohol treatment, and otherwise go about his/her life. He/she just can’t drink alcohol.
The SCRAMx program, however, includes monitoring for both house arrest and alcohol use. House arrest can be total or can be based on a curfew.
The exact terms under which a defendant can leave and how far he/she can go will be determined by the court. If the offender leaves during the period he/she must be home, an alert will be generated.
SCRAM, no. SCRAMx, yes.
SCRAM wearers are not sentenced to confinement. So there is no credit for time served while wearing the device.
But SCRAMx systems are only ordered when a DUI offender is sentenced to house arrest. Since the offender is in confinement (even if he/she is free to leave at certain times for certain purposes), credit is usually given for time served.3
Yes to showering; no to taking a bath. SCRAM users are not allowed to submerge the bracelet in water (including swimming pools, hot tubs, and the bath tub).
Users can shower and, in fact, need to in order to keep the area around the bracelet clean.
SCRAM devices can tell the difference between consumed alcohol and alcohol in the environment. In some cases, defendants have tried to trick the system by spilling a drink on it or otherwise exposing it to alcohol.
While this will cause a “spike” in the bracelet’s data, it will show a different pattern than consumed alcohol. However, users of the bracelet must sign an agreement not to use products containing alcohol on or around the bracelet.
Accidentally exposing the device to alcohol will not generally be considered a violation. But intentionally trying to trick the device can subject the offender to court sanctions.
Taking medicines as directed should not result in a false positive. If someone were to consume enough to become intoxicated, it would be considered a violation of the court’s order, even though it came from medicine.
The same is true of mouthwashes, breath sprays and other consumer products containing alcohol.
Charged with a SCRAM violation in California? Call us for help…
If you have been charged with a SCRAM violation or need other help with a DUI, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation.
Call us or complete the form on this page to discuss your case in person or by phone with an experienced California DUI attorney.
We have local offices in Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, Pasadena, Long Beach, Orange County, Ventura, San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside, San Diego, Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and throughout California.
We also have offices in Las Vegas and Reno that are versed in the use of SCRAM devices in Nevada DUI cases.