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There are a number of medical conditions that can have an impact on DUI cases. For drivers with diabetes, this condition can affect BAC readings when tested on a Breathalyzer device. In addition, many of the signs and symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis can be confused for alcohol intoxication.
People who suffer from diabetes lack the proper amounts of insulin needed to break down glucose and convert it into energy. When a diabetes sufferer does not have enough insulin, the body will begin to burn fat for energy. This produces a waste product known as ketones which is excreted through the breath and through urine. If the body produces an excess of ketones, the diabetes sufferer can fall into diabetic ketoacidosis which in its most serious form can result in a coma or can even be fatal.
Drivers who are suffering from a diabetic incident and have an excess of ketones in their system, also known as ketosis, may appear to be under the influence of alcohol. Drivers experiencing ketosis will often emit a sweet smell on their breath that police officers may confuse with alcohol. These drivers also may appear to be sluggish, confused and lackadaisical, which may be confused for alcohol or drug impairment. These drivers will be asked to complete various field sobriety tests and may have problems with coordination or balance as a result of ketosis or diabetic ketoacidosis. As a result, the driver may be arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol as a result of the “physical indicia of intoxication” observed by the investigating officer.
In addition to appearing to be intoxicated, a driver who is diabetic or who is suffering a diabetic incident can also experience elevated BAC results when tested on Breathalyzer device. As discussed, when someone is experiencing a diabetic incident, he or she is producing an excess of ketones which are excreted through the breath. These ketones have a molecular composition that is extremely similar to isopropyl alcohol. As a result, the presence of ketones can trick certain breath testing machines into reading the ketones as excess alcohol which would skew BAC results higher. The driver may have consumed alcohol, however he or she may not have a BAC that is above 0.08 percent, which is the legal limit. If taking a blood test, the driver’s BAC would be expected to be below 0.08 percent. However, if the driver has excessive ketones on his or her breath, this may push the BAC over 0.08 percent which would result in criminal charges and an automatic driver’s license suspension for at least four months.
For drivers who are diabetic and who have been charged with a DUI offense, it may be necessary to call medical experts who could testify regarding the effects and symptoms of diabetes and diabetic ketoacidosis. It also may be necessary to call an expert to testify about the physiological effect that ketones have on a person’s breath sample when testing on a Breathalyzer device.