Why the ACLU is taking on Wyoming’s pretrial “24/7 Sobriety” program
Criminologists and, increasingly, local court systems love the idea of “swift, certain and fair” punishments for drug use (including alcohol) by people with criminal justice system involvement. They say that releasing people with strict anti-drug use conditions will curb mass incarceration, cut costs and assist in rehabilitation—a win for everyone.
Not only is this misleading, but the programs they are creating might be unconstitutional. That is what the ACLU contends of the 24/7 Sobriety Program in Wyoming, in a demand letter recently sent to Governor Mark Gordon, Attorney General Bridget Hill, the Teton Co. Sheriff’s Office and others.
ACLU to argue constitutionality of Teton County’s 24/7 sobriety program
“Pretrial participants in Wyoming’s 24/7 Sobriety Program should be presumed innocent until proven guilty and are entitled to due process and meaningful hearings,” said Stephanie Amiotte, ACLU of Wyoming legal director. “Any law that allows the warrantless search of people without probable cause to believe they’ve committed a crime violates the Constitution and cannot stand. We hope the court will recognize that the 24/7 Program, as applied in Teton County, is a gross overreach of government power.”
Wyoming’s court-ordered sobriety program may promote public safety, but is it constitutional?
Wyoming’s 24/7 program, created by state law, was originally designed for repeat offenders of alcohol-related crimes. In Teton Co. it is also being used as a pretrial condition for first-time defendants accused of drug and alcohol-related crimes.
As part of the program’s “intensive monitoring,” most participants have to show up twice a day, during a narrow window of time, to take a Breathalyzer test.
If participants fail the tests, don’t show up or arrive more than 30 minutes late, they go to jail until a hearing is scheduled in front of Teton Co. Circuit Court Judge James Radda. Their wait in jail can be a couple of hours or more than 24 hours.
The ACLU and local attorneys say Wyoming’s 24/7 Sobriety Program, when used as a pretrial release condition for first-time offenders, may violate:
•The Fourth Amendment for potentially unreasonable searches and seizures;
•The Fifth Amendment for potentially depriving participants of liberty through sometimes repeated pretrial arrests without due process of law;
•The Sixth Amendment for potentially depriving participants of the right to counsel at hearings for alleged violations of the 24/7 testing requirements.
Wyoming legislature may reexamine controversial forced sobriety program: Program that passed with almost unanimous support now questioned
But Case, like critics of the program, wonders if the program is unconstitutional or violates civil liberties. Critics also question why people who haven’t even been convicted of an offense are forced to abstain from alcohol around the clock, even when they may not be a danger to public safety.
“Believe me, there should be consequences. But I’m not sure this is the right fix. The whole 24/7 mindset is a little troubling to me.”
Elaborating on that mindset, Case emphasized how the program restricted participants’ lives even when public safety wasn’t in jeopardy.
“You might have alcohol in your body in a situation where you have nothing to do with operating a motor vehicle, nothing that affects public safety,” he said.
Case further questioned why his fellow legislators were potentially putting mandatory sobriety, even though alcohol is legal, before participants’ rights.
“This seemed to me like it would have some constitutional implications,” he said.