Proposed bill on alcohol monitoring for repeat offenders gets mixed opinions

The Honolulu Prosecutor’s Office wants to crack down on the number of DUI offenses. It’s asking state lawmakers to require alcohol-monitoring devices for repeat offenders who are facing more charges.

The measure, HB306, has already passed the House but one state agency is against it, saying the proposal is discriminatory.

Honolulu police and the state Department of Transportation are in support of the measure, but the State Public Defender’s office says the proposal misses the mark.

If the bill becomes law, repeat offenders who are once again charged with a DUI would be required to wear a continuous alcohol-monitoring device for 90 days as condition of bail.

Also known as a SCRAM bracelet, the device detects the presence of alcohol by contact with the person’s skin at least every half-hour.

If the defendant can’t afford to pay for the device, the court could authorize the state to foot the bill after a check of their financial status.

But Chief Deputy Public Defender Tim Ho says the measure discriminates against those of a lower socioeconomic status. “These people who are charged as repeat offenders won’t be able to pay for a SCRAM device and would have to sit in jail, whereas a person who has financial means won’t even have to spend a single day in jail,” he said.

The Honolulu Prosecutor’s Office wasn’t immediately available for a comment on Sunday, but in testimony submitted to lawmakers, the office says its main interest is public safety and the intent is to prevent or minimize these types of criminal offenses.

According to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 54 percent of the traffic fatalities on state highways were either alcohol or drug related.

Ho tells KHON2 what’s proposed won’t actually stop someone from getting in the car and driving drunk. “We believe the priority should be placed on ignition interlock,” he said.

James Lewis, a criminal defense attorney who specializes in DUI law, echoed that sentiment. “Is this really deterring the conduct that it’s seeking to prevent?,” he asked. “If alcohol consumption is the primary concern, then why not require some sort of treatment or something else?”

The Honolulu Prosecutor’s Office also cited the results from a Pennsylvania county in its testimony, saying that of the 500 offenders with a SCRAM bracelet, only 11 people drank while wearing one.

The local Mothers Against Drunk Driving chapter submitted testimony against the measure, also saying it doesn’t prevent high-risk, convicted repeat offenders from drinking and driving.

The bill is now in the Senate and will be discussed Monday. We’re told if it makes it to Governor Ige’s desk, the State Public Defender’s Office will ask him to veto it.

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