George C. Creal Jr., P.C.,
Diabetes and Georgia DUI Arrests

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Arresting a Diabetic for DUI? Really?

A Police Officer pulls over a late night driver for speeding or weaving. The officer notes several signs of impairment like unsteadiness, staggered walk, slurred speech, disorientation, drowsiness, and confusion, that signal a possible DUI. A DUI arrest is made by the officer and after reading Georgia’s Implied Consent rights the Driver submits to a state administered breath test at the jail that registers over Georgia’s legal limit for DUI of 0.08 grams or more within three hours of driving. 

Was the driver actually DUI? Was the driver impaired due to the consumption of alcohol? Sometimes, the obvious conclusion can often be completely wrong. What if this particular driver has diabetes? 

Diabetes is a classification of metabolic diseases in which the body has high blood sugar either because it does not produce enough insulin, or because the body’s cells do not respond to the insulin that is produced. The symptoms of a diabetic with low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) or high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) are the same as those of a drunk driver. Confusing alcohol intoxication and a diabetic episode has lead to the arrest of many innocent people for DUI and in some tragic situations has lead to the death of diabetic at the hands of police because of their failure to receive timely medical care.  

For the past 20 years, diabetes rates in North America have been steadily increasing. In 2010 nearly 26 million people had been diagnosed with diabetes in the United States. Another 7 million people have undiagnosed diabetes. It is now estimated that 57 million people have pre-diabetes. Considering that the population of the United States is currently estimated at 311 million people, that means that 27% of the population is diabetic or pre-diabetic. The Centers for Disease Control has termed diabetes an epidemic. About 5–10% of diabetes cases in North America are type 1, with the rest being type 2. In 2003, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that 1 in 3 Americans born after 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetime. The American Diabetes Association approximates that 18.3% (8.6 million) of Americans age 60 and older have diabetes. Unfortunately, for persons suspected of DUI, police do not receive very adequate medical training, if any, on how to distinguish a DUI driver from a Diabetic Emergency. The only sure method of detection is a blood test at the hospital which is often too time consuming for police officers with other legally accepted DUI detection methods like DUI breath tests. Even DUI blood tests do not routinely screen for indicators of diabetes.  

A suspected DUI driver with low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) may experience dizziness, slurred speech, blurred vision, muscle weakness, loss of coordination, and confusion. With high blood sugar (hyperglycemia), the driver can suffer from blurred vision, fatigue (sleepiness), dry mouth (with effects on speech), hyperventilation, cardiac arrhythmia, and stupor. Without adequate medical attention, these conditions can result in coma, or death. In a roadside DUI investigation, the physical manifestations of a diabetic in distress are the very DUI detection clues that police officers are trained to look for under National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) DUI DETECTION AND STANDARDIZED FIELD SOBRIETY TRAINING in making a "less safe" DUI arrest.

Diabetes and the DUI Breath Test:

Certainly, either the field alcohol breath test or the State-administered Breath Test will separate a DUI driver from a diabetic in distress? Right?

DUI Breath Testing Technology is Non-specific for Alcohol: 

DUI Alcohol Breath testing technology uses infrared spectrometry or uses the absorption characteristics of ethanol or alcohol vapor as it passes through infrared light beams. A small computer in the breath devices then compares the pattern of light absorption with known patterns of alcohol absorption. Unfortunately for diabetics and non-diabetics who may temporarily experience high or low blood sugar, the machines are not sophisticated enough to accurately distinguish between ethyl alcohol or ethanol (the intoxicating ingredient of beer wine and liquor) and any of the thousands of other substances in the methyl group of alcohols (a family of compounds which includes ethyl alcohol). Many of the thousands of compounds in the methyl group are close enough to register as alcohol in this type of testing. 

Acetone and the Diabetic DUI Arrest:

The presence of acetone in the breath of diabetics in distress is a common source of false DUI arrests. Acetone is a member of the methyl group like ethanol. The breath of a diabetic can contain high levels of acetones during ketoacidosis. Diabetic ketoacidosis is a metabolic condition resulting from a shortage of insulin. Individuals with diabetes are not able to properly produce or process insulin, which is a hormone the body requires in order to process starches and sugar into glucose that the body can use for energy. In response to ketoacidosis, the body switches to burning fatty acids and producing acidic ketone bodies that cause most of the symptoms and complications associated with high blood sugar. Ketoacidosis also causes the production of acetones in the breath, as the body, in self-defense rids itself of acetone. This results in false positive results for alcohol intoxication in DUI breath tests. To make matters worse, if small amounts of alcohol are introduced into the diabetics body, then the liver prioritizes alcohol metabolism over insulin production which can exacerbate blood sugar imbalances as well. 

Defending a Diabetic from False DUI Charges:

Information is power. Issuing spotting, medical record retrieval and hiring the appropriate experts are the keys to successfully defending a falsely accused diabetic of a DUI charge. At our firm we can help you prevent diabetes from resulting in a false DUI conviction. 

Call or Email Now! (404) 333-0706 or for a FREE CONSULTATION!

For more information relating to Diabetes and DUI see:

1) HYPOGLYCEMIA: DRIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCE, by John Arnold, in Volume 8, Issue 1 of the Medical and Toxicological Information Review, September 2003 
2) Diabetes as a Defense , on the American Prosecutors Research Institute website, Between the Lines - Volume 2, Number 1, 1994

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is a trial lawyer with 18 years of courtroom experience. He is one of only 6 Atlanta DUI lawyers with both an AV Preeminent rating from and a 10.0/10.0 Superb rating on He has over 100 "not guilty" verdicts under his belt and has forged indispensable relationships with police, judges and prosecutors all over the State of Georgia in order to benefit his clients' defense.
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No legal advice should be obtained from the web site alone. George C. Creal, Jr., P.C. is Georgia Professional Corporation authorized to practice law in the State of Georgia only and all information contained in this web site is intended for use for DUI arrests occurring in the State of Georgia. Individuals with DUI from outside the State of Georgia should contact a licensed attorney in the state of occurrence of their DUI. Copyright © 2014 George C. Creal, Jr. P.C.
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