AG: Testing a success: Stenehjem says alcohol breath tests for chronic drunken drivers may be available by summerDaily alcohol breath tests for chronic drunken drivers may be available statewide by summer, and some judges have begun imposing the requirement in domestic violence cases, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said Wednesday.
By: By Dale Wetzel, The Associated Press, The Jamestown Sun
BISMARCK — Daily alcohol breath tests for chronic drunken drivers may be available statewide by summer, and some judges have begun imposing the requirement in domestic violence cases, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said Wednesday.
Stenehjem spoke to a North Dakota legislative committee, which includes law enforcement officers and judges, that is studying alternative approaches to deterring and punishing crime.
Counties in south-central North Dakota have conducted such tests for almost two years. It was recently expanded to northeastern North Dakota, including Grand Forks County, and is expected to start in Cass County, North Dakota’s largest, in June.
It mostly affects North Dakotans arrested multiple times for drunken driving. As a condition of remaining free on bond, participants are ordered to take breath tests twice a day, seven days a week, at their local sheriff’s office.
Each test costs $1. Participants blow into a plastic tube attached to a device that immediately shows their blood-alcohol level. The test usually takes less than a minute, said Burleigh County Sheriff’s Sgt. Troy Karlberg, who supervises the Bismarck program.
If a test shows a person has been drinking, he or she is jailed, pending a court appearance.
“It is not a situation where you set a hearing three months down the road,” Stenehjem said. “The consequences (of a violation) are certain and the consequences are immediate.”
Last year, the Legislature expanded the program’s reach to include offenders arrested for domestic violence, child neglect and other crimes that can involve alcohol. Stenehjem said some judges are ordering offenders in such cases to submit to daily testing as a condition of their bail.
Since January 2008, 314 of the 482 participants in the testing program have successfully completed it, and 72 are still active, Stenehjem said. The rest flunked at least one alcohol test. Participants have taken more than 33,000 tests and passed almost 99 percent of them, he said.
“Very often, these are people who have a serious alcohol problem,” Stenehjem said. “They are people who have been arrested at least twice for driving under the influence, and so every day, really, is a success for them.”
South Dakota began a similar program in February 2005. In Pennington County alone, where Rapid City is located, the program handles 439 people daily who take breath tests, said manager Tessia Johnston.
Of those taking breath tests, 299 are tested in the mornings and evenings, and 140 are tested once daily, Johnston said.
Karlberg and Morton County Sheriff Dave Shipman said they believe the North Dakota initiative has been working well.
“It keeps the offenders out of jail, which keeps our costs down,” Shipman said. Morton County’s jail can hold 38 inmates.
Tom Dahl, a state Bureau of Criminal Investigation agent, said law enforcement officers in all 53 counties have been trained to administer the program.
North Dakota program participants who cannot visit a sheriff’s office twice daily can have a testing device that is strapped to a person’s leg and transmits data remotely. People using the so-called SCRAM device must pay $5 daily, along with $25 to activate the device and $25 to turn it off.