Electronic Home Monitoring

Washington’s harsh DUI laws all involve mandatory imposition of a jail sentence upon any DUI conviction, and these laws have aggravated a preexisting system-wide problem of jail overcrowding. In response to this problem, Electronic Home Detention (EHD) is now used in certain cases. A person who is given electronic home detention serves all or part of a jail sentence in detention at home, but is also permitted to go to work at regulated times.

The detainee wears an ankle bracelet or a device like a wristwatch which communicates by radio with a “home base” located in the detainee’s home. The home base is connected to the detainee’s home telephone line, and communicates with a computer, typically located in a probation office. The home base also can contain a breath testing device which allows for random alcohol testing. If the detainee is not within a prescribed distance from the home base, a “violation” is recorded and reported automatically to the probation office. A violation of home detention conditions will result in the jail time being served in “hard time” in a traditional jail facility.

The cost of home detention is borne by the detainee, who “rents” the equipment and pays the probation department for monitoring compliance. The fee can run from several hundred dollars to much more, depending upon the length of the required home detention.

The newest EHD equipment has the capability to use voice recognition technology and Global Positioning Satellites (GPS) to monitor and report the detainee’s exact location twenty four hours per day.

EHD might seem like a desirable alternative to “real” jail, especially for a person with no prior DUI arrests, but a little-known section of the law has a huge impact on the decision whether to request EHD or not. Under RCW 46.61.5055 for a first offense DUI, the minimum jail time is either one or two days in jail, depending upon the breath test result and other factors. A person with no prior DUI offenses may ask to serve this time on EHD but if that request is granted, FIFTEEN days of EHD must be served for every ONE day of jail that otherwise would be served and similary, two days of jail is served as thirty days of EHD,. Further, what is not generally understood about EHD is that the option of serving jailtime as EHD may be imposed by the judge’s order on sentencing whether the defendant wants it or not.

For anyone with a with prior DUI offense, EHD is mandatory and follows a period of serving jail in a “real” jail. For instance, a person with one prior conviction whose breath test is under .15% will serve thirty days in jail followed by sixty days of EHD as a minimum sentence. Judges are free, of course, to impose any sentence up to the maximum (365 days in jail/$5,000 fine) in any case.

Electronic Home Detention will likely grow in use as the technology increases in sophistication, decreases in price, and the punishment continues to increase for a conviction for DUI. Some  courts are already using electronic home monitoring devices that work in conjunction with GPS  monitoring so that the whereabouts of the individual is known at all times.  In addition, some electronic home monitoring devices also contain breath testing devices so that the court can monitor whether the individual is complying with a court order to abstain from alcohol.