Diabetes and DUI Impairment

Updated on November 4th, 2020 at 04:37 pm

Type 1 diabetes is an incurable disease that occurs when the pancreas is unable to produce insulin. Insulin is required to regulate blood sugar levels. Individuals with type 1 diabetes must monitor their blood sugar on their own through a combination of insulin, diet control, and medication. This leaves far more room for error, as a person with diabetes can either have blood sugar levels that are too high or too low. Both of these scenarios can have serious health effects.

Can Hypoglycemia Mimic Intoxication?

When diabetics have low blood sugar, and therefore more insulin in their blood than the carbohydrates that the insulin is breaking down, it is called hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemic symptoms mirror those of intoxication. People who do not have diabetes can still have a brief hypoglycemic episode, especially those who are on low carb diets or have not eaten recently. On the opposite end of the spectrum, people with too much sugar in their blood suffer from hyperglycemia. Hyperglycemics experience different symptoms that also can be misconstrued as effects of alcohol.

Symptoms of Hypoglycemia

Symptoms of hypoglycemia include sweating, blurred vision, shaking, slurred speech, delayed reflexes, and lightheadedness. When a police officer notices these symptoms, they are likely to ask you to complete a field sobriety test. It is unlikely that a person having a hypoglycemic episode will pass these tests due to decreased ability to function.

Symptoms of Hyperglycemia

When a person has a hyperglycemic episode, the body burns fat instead of carbs to use as energy. This leads to a build-up of ketones in the blood stream, causing a distinct bad breath odor, which a police officer could misconstrue as an odor of alcohol. Additionally, people with excess sugar in the blood stream will experience rapid heartbeat, labored breathing, thirst, drowsiness, and flushed face.

Ketones can increase a breath test reading up to .06

Police officers can misread many symptoms of hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia as indicators of intoxication. If this is the case, do not agree to a breath test. Ketones, which are produced during hyperglycemic episodes, are often misread by breathalyzers. Acetone, a byproduct of ketones, is released through your breath as isopropyl alcohol. The equipment cannot differentiate between different types of alcohol and will read the acetone as ethanol alcohol, which is used to make most alcoholic beverages. This can increase your breath test reading by as much as .06, which is only .02 below the legal limit.

In Maryland and Washington D.C., you are legally obligated to disclose a diabetes diagnosis and submit to a medical evaluation and complete a health questionnaire. If you did not disclose this when applying for your driver’s license, it can cause additional legal complications if you try to fight the charge based on diabetic complications.

If you have diabetes and have been charged with an OWI or DUI in Maryland or DC, your charges may be unjustified, and you should speak to a defense lawyer immediately. Our firm has experience handling DUI/OWI charges including ones with medical concerns that need to be investigated and looked at closely. Contact Bruckheim & Patel for a free case consultation at 202-930-3464.

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