Medical Reasons for a High Breath Test – Diabetes and DUI

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Did you know that the symptoms of alcohol intoxication and diabetes are very similar?

Alcohol can immediately increase blood sugar; however, over a period of hours, blood sugar can actually be lowered. This can cause a diabetic reaction and mislead an officer into thinking that a driver is quite drunk. Their diabetic reaction can cause outward symptoms such as: tiredness, flushed face, drowsiness, impaired coordination, and dulled mental alertness. In addition, ketones on the breath can cause bad breath, which would smell like the “odor of alcohol on breath” to an officer. Even someone who is diabetic, who just has low blood sugar, can exhibit: slurred speech, slowed movement, and impaired motor control.

If a diabetic person were to then take a blood alcohol breath test, the acetone in their breath may cause an erroneously high reading. One study found that the subjects with diabetes had acetone levels high enough to produce a breath alcohol reading of .06.[1] That is almost above the legal limit of .08. Also, these breath machines will think that ketones on the breath are actually alcohol. Even though these breath machines have “interferent detectors” (meaning detectors that can determine if a different chemical other than alcohol is present in the machine) those detectors are usually ineffective because they are not trained to detect ketones.

Prosecutors will also attempt to predict what someone’s BAC (blood alcohol content) was at the time of driving by using a certain mathematical process called retrograde extrapolation. Bottom line, is that this process may be unreliable in the case of a defendant with diabetes because insulin increases the rate of burning off alcohol.

DUI Defense Attorneys have had success using diabetes as a defense at a DUI trial to get a not guilty verdict or to get a better plea deal from the prosecutor. [2] The Attorney’s at Horwath Law has successfully used diabetes as a defense to get a DUI amended to a lesser charge, thereby avoiding a costly trial for their clients.

If you or someone that you know has been charged with a DUI, Reckless Driving, Physical Control, or Negligent Driving in Washington, Horwath Law wants to take the time with you and your medical history to get the best results for your case. Contact us today.

[1] Mormann, Olsen, Sakshaug, and Morland, Measurement of Ethanol by Alkomat Breath Analyzer; Chemical Specificity and the Influence of Lung Function, Breath Technique and Environmental Temperature

[2]Drunk Driving Defense Fifth Edition page 190-193 and 327-329 by Lawrence Taylor