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Cost of SCRAM Device Monitoring Examined by Washington Supreme Court

Posted by Aaron J. Wolff | Aug 31, 2016 | 0 Comments

Earlier this summer, the Washington State Supreme Court issued a ruling which, upon first glance, seemed to restrict the courts' power to require DUI defendants to wear an electronic alcohol monitoring device (SCRAM) during the pretrial period. Upon closer inspection, however, any limitations articulated in this particular case are unlikely to have broader, statewide implications that would inure to the benefit of the accused.

In State of Washington v. Frederick Hardtke, the lower court had imposed specific conditions of pretrial release on a man charged with rape, assault and malicious mischief while under the influence of alcohol. The relevant stipulations were that the accused would be required to abstain from drinking alcohol and demonstrate compliance by wearing an electronic monitoring device. Once Hardtke was convicted of the charged offenses, the court went on to impose upon him substantial pretrial supervision costs related to the SCRAM device totaling almost $4,000.

Hardtke appealed these costs on the basis of RCW 10.01.160, a statutory provision limiting to $150.00 the amount a court may assess a defendant for pretrial supervision costs. The Supreme Court's ruling made it clear that this provision relates specifically to pretrial supervision that has been directly provided by the court requiring it. It does not, however, speak to pretrial supervision costs accumulated when the services themselves are provided by a third party vendor. In this instance, the SCRAM device had been provided directly by the county, not a private firm. As a result, Hardtke was found not to be responsible for paying the nearly $4,000 cost of monitoring.

It should be noted that courts are not limited in the types of pretrial supervision terms they can impose, and when defendants must contract with third parties to obtain such services, they will have to bear the cost on their own. Though not the case with regard to defendant Hardtke, the reality is that most Washington courts imposing SCRAM monitoring as a pretrial release condition do not actually offer the service themselves, but rather provide referrals to private providers. As a result, any statutory limit on supervisory costs imposed on defendants will not apply, as it will be necessary for them to contract with outside firms for the desired services. Considering the financial incentives that are now clearly at play, it seems highly likely that any court in Washington that is currently providing electronic alcohol monitoring services will move toward privatization in the near future.

As anyone who has been charged with or convicted of a DUI offense will attest, the potential ramifications are long-lasting and extremely onerous. The fact is that the financial toll often begins to mount well before final adjudication is ever achieved. The costs of electronic monitoring as a condition of pretrial release can be crippling, yet utterly necessary for defendants hoping to maintain a semblance of normal life and productivity while awaiting the outcome of their case.

For these and many other reasons, those facing DUI charges in Washington owe it to themselves and their families to seek the most aggressive legal defense available. If you have been charged with a drinking and driving offense, contact Seattle attorney Aaron Wolff.

About the Author

Aaron J. Wolff

A former DUI prosecutor, Aaron Wolff has over 16 years of experience in representing people accused of DUI and is recognized as one of the leading defense lawyers in Washington State. His relentless and passionate advocacy has lead to superb ratings and outstanding reviews from former clients.

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