By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
The American Civil Liberties Union of Wyoming is suing the state over a Teton County-based sobriety program that the organization alleges violates people’s constitutional rights.
The lawsuit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court on behalf of two men, Alfredo Guillermo Sanchez and David Christopher Bell, who were previous participants in the “Wyoming 24/7 Sobriety Program,” which requires defendants in drunk driving cases to remain sober between their arrest and trial.
Participants in the program must adhere to certain requirements, including twice-daily “breathalyzer” tests, or face detention.
But the ACLU, in its lawsuit, alleged such requirements amount to a warrantless search of someone who has not yet been convicted of a crime in violation of the Constitution.
“Requiring participants to submit to warrantless searches is problematic for all persons who have been arrested and merely accused of an offense but who are not yet convicted,” said Stephanie Amiotte, ACLU of Wyoming legal director. “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. Without that, the 27/7 Program is an egregious violation of their constitutional rights.”
The Wyoming 24/7 Sobriety Program is a court-based management program and requires defendants to remain sober between their arrest and trial.
In the program, most participants have to take breathalyzer tests twice a day in a narrow period of time, between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. and 10 p.m.
If participants fail the tests, don’t show up or arrive more than 30 minutes late more than three times results in immediate arrest and jail time until a hearing is scheduled, which can take a couple hours or up to a day.
“No rule, regulation or statute authorizes a sheriff in Wyoming to arrest a person without a warrant for merely being late,” ACLU officials said Monday.
Program participants are also charged a $30 enrollment fee and pay $2 per breath test, which can amount to hundreds of dollars over a long period of time.
According to the lawsuit, between Sanchez and Ball, the men submitted to nearly 300 breathalyzer tests while awaiting trial.
Both Sanchez and Bell were arrested for arriving late to their breathalyzer test. The ACLU alleges more than one person was also arrested and held in jail after giving a negative alcohol test.
The program was created by a state law in 2014 and was originally designed for repeat offenders of alcohol and drug-related arrests. In Teton County, it is also being used as a pretrial condition for first-time offenders following an amendment of the law in 2019.
The ACLU claims that the 24/7 Program violates the Fourth Amendment for potentially unreasonable searches and seizures, the Eighth Amendment for potentially depriving participants of reasonable bail and bail conditions and the 14th Amendment for depriving participants of liberty through sometimes repeated pre-trial arrests potentially without due process of law.
“For people who have been arrested but not convicted, the 24/7 program and its fees looks like a criminal sentence,” Amiotte said. “Unlawful search and seizure does nothing to improve public safety. Detaining people for running late, often for circumstances beyond their control like heavy traffic or a mistake like oversleeping due to late work hours, does nothing to improve public safety. It’s simply an incredibly punitive pretrial release condition, especially for first-time suspected offenders, that wreaks havoc on their families and jobs and their mental, physical and emotional health.”