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Judge Rules in Favor of Soap Opera Actress Accused of Violating Probation

An electronic monitor allegedly detected that Jensen Buchanan had consumed alcohol; she was set to be released Friday night

Jensen Buchanan sits in Santa Barbara County Superior Court on Friday for the third day of her probation violation hearing. Click to view larger
Jensen Buchanan sits in Santa Barbara County Superior Court on Friday for the third day of her probation violation hearing. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

At the end of a three-day hearing on Friday, a Santa Barbara County Superior Court judge said he couldn't find that a veteran soap opera actress had violated her probation by consuming alcohol.

Jensen Buchanan, 55, was taken into custody Jan. 12 after her electronic monitor allegedly detected that she had consumed alcohol.

Buchanan was on probation after pleading guilty to drunken driving stemming from a head-on collision on Highway 154 in May 2016.

The driver of the other vehicle, Bradley Asolas, who now lives in Arizona, was critically injured. 

At the time of the 6:20 a.m. crash, Buchanan was driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.34 percent, more than four times the 0.08 percent legal limit to be considered drunken driving in California. 

Judge James Voysey made his ruling late Friday afternoon after mostly scientific testimony for the hearing also held March 2 and March 16.

"Have I got sufficient evidence to convince me that there was an alcohol event?” Voysey asked, before saying the preponderance of the evidence did not prove the allegation.

“I do not find her in violation of probation,” Voysey said, adding he would reinstate the same probation terms as he handed down in October.

“And I would remind her that if I ever did find she violate probation it wouldn’t be a matter of probation violation it would a matter of a straight ticket to prison.”

She was sentenced to a year in jail and five years felony probation last fall, and had been released in late November to serve out the remainder of her time. 

As the judge threatened to send Buchanan to prison Asolas whispered, "he said that last time,” prompting a supporter of Buchanan’s to whisper an expletive at the accident victim.

Buchanan allegedly consumed alcohol in two separate periods, in December and again in January, but was not notified of an alleged violation until the second incident when she got a blood test.

The judge noted the Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor, or SCRAM device, reported alcohol, but a blood test conducted once she had been notified of an alleged violation failed to detect ethyl glucuronide (EtG), a new marker for determining alcohol consumption.

“How do I reconcile the SCRAM process, which I think does have some real credibility to it in detecting alcohol — I’m not saying anything negative about the SCRAM and whether it’s working right — and an EtG test that says it’s a negative test?. How do I recognize those two things?”

He referred to a witness who spoke about the kinetics of how alcohol moves through the body, raising doubts about a SCRAM device report claiming Buchanan drank alcohol for 300 hours straight.

“It’s physically impossible in his mind for that to have occurred so that weighs strongly in my mind,” Voysey said. 

Earlier in the day, defense attorney Josh Lynn tried to point out flaws in the process SCRAM uses to determine whether a drinking event occurred and the results generated from the device Buchanan wore.

Mark Wojcik, chief technology officer and vice president of engineering for Alcohol Monitoring Systems, has disputed the defense contention that Buchanan’s SCRAM device gave erroneous readings.

For Friday’s hearing, he prepared a presentation showing test subjects whose SCRAM devices has similar readings for multi-day alcohol events. 

“I know that we see multi-day events that look like these routinely,” Wojcik said. “There’s nothing unusual about the patterns in these.”

Lynn also asked questions about the test subject leading Wojcik to reveal results came from an AMS employee wearing the device and self-reporting any alcohol consumption. 

Wojcik said the device’s fuel cell, key for detecting alcohol thorough the skin, degrades over time, leading to a decision to recall monitors annually for calibration.

Dr. Gregory Skipper, an addiction medicine specialist, also expressed skepticism about the SCRAM data.

“I’m concerned that it’s not reliable,” he said. “I’m really concerned — I don’t know what’s wrong with the device or why this reading was there, but I am really doubtful she was drinking at least in the proximity of the EtG test,” Skipper said. 

Under questioning from Deputy District Attorney Chrystal Joseph, Skipper said he has been paid $11,000 for his role in the case. 

She also asked him read a sentence from a presentation he had previously prepared.

“I just said that SCRAM has some proven accuracy,” the doctor said. 

After the testimony, Joseph urged the judge to consider the totality of the circumstances.

"The reasonable assumption is she was drinking alcohol," Joseph said, adding the prosecution did not have to prove a blood-alcohol level for Buchanan, only that she had consumed alcohol.

The defense attorney said the alleged evidence against Buchanan left him baffled, and contended the case involved "flexible science" presented by SCRAM supporters.

"I'm asking your honor to very clearly define whatever it was that happened as at best inconclusive," Lynn said, contending the evidence did not prove Buchanan violated probation.

Buchanan was expected to be released from the Santa Barbara County Jail on Friday night.

Outside the courtroom, Asolas expressed disappointment but not surprise at the outcome. During the sentencing hearing, Asolas urged the judge to send Buchanan to prison.

"With that being said it still hurt, especially to hear the judge 'warn' her that if she ever did this again, he would throw the book at her  --  the exact same thing he said the first time," Asolas said Friday.

He also said he was taken back when Buchanan's friend called him a name in the courtroom.

"After all I have been through, and all I face in my life, because of her, he has the audacity to call me that?" Asolas asked, adding he and his wife regularly pray for Buchanan.

 

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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