Can Diabetics Be Wrongfully Arrested for DUI?

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Can Diabetics Be Wrongfully Arrested for DUI, even if they have not consumed alcohol?

Can Diabetics Be Wrongfully Arrested for DUI even if they have not consumed alcohol? The answer is a qualified yes; and here’s why.

In the typical scenario a police officer initiates a traffic stop of a driver based upon erratic driving. Following the stop the officer makes personal contact with the driver and suspects the latter may be under the influence. The officer administers a battery of field sobriety tests and the driver performs poorly. The officer then requests that the driver submit to a preliminary breath test (PBT) to measure their breath alcohol content (BrAC). The results of the PBT are above the legal limit. The officer then makes an arrest decision and takes the driver into custody.

The problem is that rather than being under the influence, the driver is a diabetic suffering the effects of hypoglycemia.

Hypoglycemia Can Create a False Impression of Intoxication

A person who experiences a hypoglycemic episode, accompanied by low blood sugar levels, may manifest symptoms that are strikingly similar to intoxication. It is not uncommon for a police officer to mistakenly assume that a particular driver is intoxicated, when in fact the driver is experiencing hypoglycemia.

For example, a diabetic experiencing hypoglycemia may exhibit common signs of intoxication.  These signs include slow and slurred speech, flushed face, balance problems, impaired coordination and may appear drowsy and disoriented or distracted. Indeed, hypoglycemia can cause a diabetic to appear significantly intoxicated in the absence of any alcohol ingestion whatsoever.

Diabetics and Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

When a person is stopped by an officer for suspected drunk or drugged driving, he or she is typically subjected to a battery of field coordination tasks which are commonly referred to as FSTs. These tasks take on many forms depending upon the officer’s training and experience. But officers who have been trained in accordance with National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) protocols can be expected to administer a series of three tests in a standardized manner to ascertain indicators of impairment.

More often than not, the suspected driver’s performance provides principal basis for the officer’s arrest decision. The three test battery developed by NHTSA is comprised of the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN), walk-and-turn (WAT), and One-Leg Stand (OLS). Before these tests are administered, NHTSA protocol requires the officer to inquire whether the driver has any medical conditions that would prevent them from successfully performing the FSTs.

Clearly, it is of critical importance that a diabetic driver who is stopped by the police immediately advise the officer or officers of their medical condition and any prescribed medications.

The Science of Breath Testing

As alcohol-infused blood travels through the lungs, some of that alcohol moves across the lung’s membranes (the thin layer of tissue) and into their air sacs, or alveoli. The concentration of alcohol in the alveolar air correlates with the concentration of alcohol in the blood. This correlation is known as the partition ratio and is a fundamentally sound scientific principal when correctly applied.

Most breath testing equipment including the DataMaster DMT used in Michigan is designed to measure blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which is the amount of alcohol present in a person’s bloodstream based upon a partition ratio of 2100 to 1. This ratio purports to convert the alcohol in the breath to alcohol in the blood. The problem is that partition ratios vary from person to person. Consequently, the 2100 to 1 ration may unfairly quantify a subject’s BrAC where the subjects personal characteristics include a different partition ratio. The problem is compounded in the case of a diabetic.

Inaccurate BAC Results and Diabetes

Ethanol is the organic compound that is found in alcoholic beverages and is what the breath testing equipment is designed to quantify. However, a diabetic with hypoglycemia may develop ketoacidosis, which can generate acetone in the mouth and can be smelled as it is expelled in the breath.

As noted, breath testing equipment (both evidential breath testers such as the DataMaster DMT and PBT devices) are designed to measure a person’s BrAC which correlates to the amount of alcohol present in the person’s bloodstream. The devices are designed and engineered to detect not only ethanol but any chemical within the methyl group of alcohol which includes acetone.

A diabetic who has developed ketoacidosis may register a high BrAC reading because the breath testing device mistakes the acetone for ethyl alcohol.

Diabetics Who Consume Alcohol Increase Their Risk of Hypoglycemia

When a person with diabetes consumes alcohol, it can quickly lead to a hypoglycemic episode. Alcohol can induce hypoglycemia shortly after consumption and for up to 24 hours after ingestion. The risk of alcohol causing low glucose is most common for diabetics taking insulin or other antidiabetic agents, as these medications are designed to reduce glucose levels.

Effects of Alcohol on Diabetes

Here are some other ways that alcohol can affect diabetes provided by WedMD:

  • While moderate amounts of alcohol can cause blood sugar to rise, excess alcohol can actually decrease your blood sugar level — sometimes causing it to drop into dangerous levels.

  • Beer and sweet wine contain carbohydrates and may raise blood sugar.

  • Alcohol stimulates your appetite, which can cause you to overeat and may affect your blood sugar control.

  • Alcohol may also affect your judgment or willpower, causing you to make poor food choices.

  • Alcohol can interfere with the positive effects of oral diabetes medicines or insulin.

  • Alcohol may increase triglyceride levels.

  • Alcohol may increase blood pressure.

  • Alcohol can cause flushing, nausea, increased heart rate, and slurred speech.

If you are a diabetic who has been arrested for drunk driving in Michigan, contact an experienced DUI lawyer.

Can Diabetics Be Wrongfully Arrested for DUI, even if they have not consumed alcohol? The simple answer is: absolutely!

Since a diabetic has the potential to perform poorly on field sobriety tests and register a high BrAC reading, even though he or she may not be intoxicated or has not consumed any alcohol whatsoever, the chances of being arrested for DUI or OWI are significant.

If you are a diabetic and are facing drunk or drugged driving charges that are unwarranted, you need to consult with an experienced Michigan DUI lawyer who understands the science of breath testing. An experienced attorney will be able to review your case, including your medical history, to help develop a winning defense.

For more information and to speak to Attorney Edward Earl Duke today, call 248-409-0484.

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