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Diabetes and Georgia DUI Arrests

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How Diabetes Relates to Georgia DUI

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, which signal a possible DUI. A DUI arrest is made by the officer and after the officer reads Georgia’s Implied Consent rights, the Driver submits to a state administered breath test at the jail. The test registers that the driver’s BAC is over Georgia’s legal limit for DUI of 0.08 grams or more within three hours of driving.

Was the driver actually DUI? Or, does this particular driver have diabetes?

Diabetes is a classification of metabolic diseases where the body has high blood sugar because it either does not produce enough insulin, or because the body’s cells do not respond to the insulin that it does produce. The symptoms of a diabetic with low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) or high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) are the same as those of a drunk driver. Because the symptoms are the same, if an officer confuses a diabetic episode for alcohol intoxication, It can lead to the arrest of innocent people. Some traffic situations have even lead to the diabetic dying at the hands of police because they fail to receive timely medical care.

Diabetes rates in North America have been steadily increasing over the past 20 years. Near 26 million people in the US had been diagnosed with diabetes in 2010. Another 7 million people have undiagnosed diabetes. It is now estimated that 57 million people have pre-diabetes. Since 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, while the rest are 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 aged 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 that can use other legally accepted DUI detection methods, such as 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 the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) DUI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Training to make 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 distinguish 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 by analyzing 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. Like ethanol, acetone is a member of the methyl group. The breath of a diabetic can contain high levels of acetones during ketoacidosis. Diabetic ketoacidosis is a metabolic that occurs due to a shortage of insulin. Individuals with diabetes are not able to properly produce or process insulin, a hormone required to process starches and sugar into glucose that the body can use for energy. In response to ketoacidosis, the body burns fatty acids and produces 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 rids itself of acetone in self-defense. This can produce false positive results indicating 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 also exacerbate blood sugar imbalances.

Defending a Diabetic from False DUI Charges

Information is power. Issue 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.

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 http://www.ndaa.org/publications.html

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