ACLU Files Lawsuit Challenging 24/7 Sobriety Program in Teton County

Civil liberty group asserts program violates constitutional rights of participants

Participants in the 24/7 Sobriety Program line up at the Teton County Courthouse between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. and again between 9 a.m and 10 p.m. each day to get tested for alcohol and/or drugs. They must do this every day for weeks to avoid going to jail for their drug or alcohol offenses. (Wyoming Truth photo by Aline Garcia-Lopez)

By Shen Wu Tan

Special to the Wyoming Truth

The ACLU of Wyoming has filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s 24/7 Sobriety Program and how it’s implemented in Teton County, claiming it violates numerous constitutional rights of those enrolled in the program. 

The 24/7 program requires individuals charged with DUIs to get tested for substances twice daily every day while awaiting trial for alcohol and drug related arrests. The ACLU and attorney Darold Kilmer filed the lawsuit in the federal District Court of Wyoming on behalf of Alfredo Guillermo Sanchez and David Christopher “Chris” Ball, former program participants who can still be mandated to enroll in the program, and other pre-trial participants. 

The lawsuit follows an in-depth examination of the 24/7 program in Teton County and its problems published by the Teton Truth, which has expanded to become the Wyoming Truth

Under the 24/7 program in Teton County, a participant can be arrested if they show up more than 30 minutes late for a daily test, which is deemed as a “missed test,” or if they are tardy (30 minutes or less) three times for a test, or if they fail a test. They remain in jail until a hearing can be held in front of a judge. Sometimes, participants can be behind bars for hours or days, depending on when a judge holds a hearing for them.  

“The Wyoming 24/7 violates core principles embedded in our Constitution,” Kilmer, an attorney in Denver, Colorado, who is licensed to practice in Wyoming, told the Wyoming Truth. “It is a gross overreach of government power, and completely flips the bedrock principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ on its head… The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution requires a government official to have probable cause to believe a crime is committed before a warrant can issue authorizing an arrest or a non-consensual drug or alcohol test. This program skips that constitutional protection. It allows an officer, without a warrant, to arrest someone merely for being late to a test, which is not a crime. The law allows an arrest and time in jail even though no crime has been committed.” 

Richard Stout, a criminal defense attorney in Jackson who has represented several clients in the program, said this is the first time the Wyoming law that established the sobriety program is being challenged.

Stephanie Amiotte, legal director of the ACLU of Wyoming, says the 24/7 Sobriety Program requirement in Teton County to detain people for running late to a test does nothing to improve public safety and describes it as an “incredibly punitive pretrial release condition.” (Courtesy photo)

“Even though it’s beyond the context of the lawsuit, I think we need to keep in mind that this program is extremely disruptive to people’s lives and their employment,” Stout said. “And in practice, I think if it was more narrowly tailored to cases where the facts would justify such regular testing, perhaps we wouldn’t be where we are today.”  

The program took effect under a 2014 state law and was created for repeat offenders of alcohol and drug-related arrests. However, after a 2019 amendment to the law, the program also is used for first-time offenders as a pretrial condition in Teton County, according to the lawsuit. 

Program participants are required to submit to breathalyzer tests twice a day, between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. and between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. A judge determines how long a participant stays enrolled in the program. 

The ACLU asserts in its lawsuit that the program violates the Fourth Amendment for potentially unreasonable searches and seizures, the Eighth Amendment for possibly depriving participants of reasonable bail and bail conditions and the Fourteenth Amendment for denying participants liberty through repeated pretrial arrests possibly 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,” said Stephanie Amiotte, legal director of the ACLU of Wyoming. “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.”  

Sanchez and Ball provided almost 300 breath tests while enrolled in the program, the lawsuit says. Ball had twice daily breath tests for more than three weeks, while Sanchez took breath tests twice a day for more than four months. The Teton County sheriff’s deputies did not obtain search warrants before the breath tests, according to the lawsuit. 

The lawsuit states the Teton County Sheriff’s Office “intentionally developed, adopted and implemented a policy, procedure and unofficial custom that included arresting Plaintiffs and pre-trial participants for arriving 30 minutes late to testing or being late to testing on three occasions without first obtaining a warrant.” 

Sanchez and Ball were arrested and held for days in jail for arriving late to testing. Ball spent two days in jail and Sanchez spent two-and-a-half days in jail for alleged program violations. Sanchez also was deprived legal representation at the hearing after his arrest and did not “voluntarily or intelligently waive his right to counsel,” the lawsuit asserts.  

Sanchez was charged for a suspected third DUI on May 9, 2021, in Teton County. Ball was arrested for a suspected first DUI offense on February 25, 2021. Both were ordered shortly after their arrests to enroll in the 24/7 Sobriety Program before being released from jail. 

Sanchez’s case is pending in the Circuit Court of the Ninth Judicial District. He was removed from the program on October 11, 2021, after completing a substance abuse assessment. But he can be placed back in the program at any time prior to trial. 

Ball was removed from the program on March 19, 2021, after completing a substance abuse assessment. Ball was sentenced on May 21, 2021, to four days in jail and granted credit for four days in jail for the time he served for the initial DUI arrest and for the alleged violations of the sobriety program. He also was sentenced to unsupervised probation for two years and is still on probation. Ball is subject to being placed back in the 24/7 Sobriety Program at any time until his probation is completed. 

The Wyoming Truth reached out to Teton County Sheriff Matt Carr and Sara King, director of Teton County’s 24/7 Sobriety Program, and Gov. Mark Gordon, who are listed as defendants in the lawsuit along with other government officials, for comments. Michael Pearlman, a spokesperson for Gordon, said the governor does not comment on pending litigation. Carr and King did not respond to multiple requests for comment.  

The Teton County Sheriff Office’s website says the sobriety program serves as a substitute for incarceration, reduces the number of people in jail, allows offenders to remain in the community with family and friends, and permits offenders to stay employed. 

Sixty-six people in Teton County participated in the 24/7 Sobriety Program and were subject to daily testing between October and December 2021, for a total of 2,105 warrantless alcohol and drug tests, according to the lawsuit.  

All program participants are required to pay a $30 enrollment fee, $10 per drug test and $2 per breathalyzer test.  

Five Wyoming counties operate the sobriety program: Teton, Campbell, Fremont, Sheridan and Sweetwater. However, how the program is implemented can vary by county. 

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