Audit: Faulty monitoring of drivers could let DUI offenders avoid jail

The state Division of Parole and Probation failed to properly monitor drunken drivers who were under court orders to install alcohol-detecting devices on their vehicles, potentially allowing violators to avoid going to jail, legislative auditors have determined.

The report found that the division's Drinking Driver Monitoring Program had inadequate procedures to identify cases in which an ignition interlock, a device that prevents a vehicle from starting if alcohol is detected on the operator's breath, was required as a condition of probation.

Nor did the agency consistently obtain monthly reports from ignition interlock vendors that documented cases in which drivers tried to start their cars and were prevented from doing so because of alcohol found on their breath, the auditors found. In some of those cases, they noted, abstention from alcohol is a condition of probation for drivers in the program.

Maryland law gives judges discretion to order convicted drunken drivers to install the ignition interlocks in their personal vehicles at their own expense. The probation division is responsible for monitoring compliance with the court orders and reporting violations to the courts.

Bruce Myers, chief of the Office of Legislative Audits, said it's up to the courts to decide whether an alcohol reading shows a violation of probation. But he said the courts can't make a judgment if they don't have the information.

In one case, Myers said, "the person had 14 violations in a six-month period, and it was never reported to the court." That case, according to the report, involved a person who had three previous drunken-driving convictions and who had been ordered by the court to abstain from alcohol.

Myers said the program's quality assurance unit did not have a good way to put together a complete list of cases the division should monitor.

"It was in the system, but they weren't getting a report from that system. They were kind of relying on the agents to tell them," Myers said. "That's already been addressed and fixed."

The auditors also reported that in some cases the agency had no monthly reports on file for individuals who had been in the program for extended periods.

"We had an example there of one [who] had been in the program for 12 months, and there were no reports. That was one of the worst examples," Myers said.

The auditors determined that it was unclear what information the division, a part of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, is required to report to the courts about probationers and potential violations. In effect, they found, violators who might otherwise be sent to jail may have been slipping through the cracks.

The report recommended that the division get in touch with the courts to determine what information the courts need regarding violations detected by interlock devices and how to report them.

Caroline Cash, executive director of MADD's Maryland chapter, said the findings show a lapse of communication among the courts and the companies that install the interlock and monitor the devices.

"We've got to work together as a team if we're going to protect Maryland citizens," she said. "I hope the parties involved will sit down together and make sure this system is working."

In a reply to the audit findings, division Director Patrick McGee said his agency agrees with the auditors' findings and is moving to correct the problems.

McGee said the division has reprogrammed its computer system to flag cases in which an ignition interlock system is required. He said that by the end of February, the department will put a procedure in place to ensure that monthly reports for each offender are reviewed.

The director also said that by the end of the year agents would be ordered to consult with the appropriate courts for guidance on when and how to report violations detected by the devices.

Rick Binetti, communications director for the public safety department, said there are limits on the ways the division can use the information. He said that unless an abstinence order is in place, a probationer's failed attempt to start a car because the device detects alcohol is not a violation.

Even where an abstinence order is in place, he said, a failed attempt to start the car might not be considered proof that the person on probation was the person who was drinking. But he agreed that such information should be shared with the courts.

"DPP going forward will be more than happy to share with any court that would want to review it," he said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Yeganeh June Torbati contributed to this article.

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