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Expert Witness Testifies About Alcohol Monitor in Jensen Buchanan’s Probation-Violation Hearing

An expert witness testified in Santa Barbara County Superior Court Friday that the electronic alcohol monitor worn by a veteran soap operas actress apparently malfunctioned based on the device’s data.

Jensen Buchanan, 55, was taken into custody in January for the alleged probation violation based on her Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor, or SCRAM device, she had worn since her release from county jail in November.

In October, Buchanan was sentenced to one year in county jail and five years probation after pleading guilty to drunken driving on Highway 154 in May 2016.

Her vehicle crossed into the opposite lane and slammed into the vehicle of now-Arizona resident Bradley Asolas, causing critical injuries that left him in the hospital for approximately a month. 

Friday marked the second day for the probation violation hearing that began March 2

Law enforcement officers took Buchanan into custody Jan. 12 after the electronic alcohol monitoring device detected “multiple instances of alcohol consumption,” a company representative said.

Friday afternoon, Joseph Anderson, who has three chemical engineering degrees and has testified 200 times for the defense in criminal cases, spoke about the movement of alcohol in the human body.

SCRAM devices monitor transdermal alcohol content through the skin, which produces different results from breath and blood tests to monitor alcohol levels.

Anderson testified that no evidence demonstrated Buchanan device worked properly.

“In fact, all the evidence to me indicates, based on the physiology, is that the device was not functioning the entire time,” Anderson said. 

Defense attorney Josh Lynn also asked the expert why the device continued to detect alcohol after it was taken off Buchanan upon her arrest.

“It’s just consistent with my testimony that at this point the device was malfunctioning,” Anderson said.

He also said the monitor’s skin temperature and transdermal alcohol content readings over several days don’t make sense.

The SCRAM device data depicts transdermal alcohol content reductions faster than the expected elimination rate, he said.

“It’s outside the physiological range,” Anderson said. 

"So it’s not just weird, it’s impossible?” Lynn asked. 

“Yeah, exactly. In fact, I don’t understand how that would happen physiologically,” Anderson added.

Buchanan’s device recorded a pair of drinking events — one that last 60 hours and another for 300 hours with no time for sleeping, the defense claimed.

“That’s problematic certainly,” Anderson said. 

Deputy District Attorney Chrystal Joseph asked if hand sanitizer, which contains rubbing alcohol, could lead to a 0.18 percent transdermal alcohol content reading.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I imagine it depends how it gets there, how much is put on, where it’s applied.’

Joseph also questioned the expert about whether studies indicate how an average female's absorption or elimination rates would compare to that of an alcoholic.

At the time of her arrest following the 6:20 a.m. crash, Buchanan had a blood alcohol content of .0.34, or more than four times above level to be considered drunken driving. 

“They don’t have a higher absorption rate,” Anderson said. “They may have a slightly higher elimination rate.”

“How so?” Joseph asked

“Because they process more alcohol,” he said, adding an alcoholic would process it a little faster.

During Friday’s hearing, two Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputies and Amie Hackworthy, the woman who allowed Buchanan to stay in her guest cottage, said they did not detect Buchanan had consumed alcohol. 

Under questioning from Joseph, the deputies said they were several feet from Buchanan while Hackworthy said she would not know if Buchanan consumed alcohol when out of sight.

The date for the next hearing remains in limbo in part due to the fact that Voysey is presiding over a homicide trial being held in Lompoc. There was discussion on court Friday that it might not take place until early April.

Lynn pressed for a sooner date, noting that his client’s original term implemented in October callled for one year in county jail, with credits for good time.

During the sentencing hearing, the judge warned Buchanan that if she consumed alcohol, she could face six years in prison.

This is not the first hearing involving SCRAM and Buchanan, who earlier was alleged to have tampered with the device. A different judge ruled the device was not functioning properly, leading to odd readings.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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