Recently, a client charged with an alcohol related offense and another charged with Extreme DUI asked about the effect of diabetes on the alcohol concentration which was reported by the crime laboratory and intended to be used against them by the prosecutor. It is important to know that in certain circumstances, diabetes can impact an individual's alcohol concentration and affect the way in which a DUI, aggravated assault or even a vehicular manslaughter can be defended.
In Arizona, a persons alcohol concentration following an arrest is usually measured by a blood or breath test. The Intoxilyzer 8000 is the machine used by police departments to determine a suspect's alcohol concentration in DUI cases. The Intoxilyzer uses an inferred light beam to detect alcohol and uses a ratio to convert a persons breath sample into a blood alcohol concentration.
In some cases, people who have diabetes will suffer from low blood sugar. This is known as "Hypoglycemia" and causes ketoacidosis. Ketoacidosis causes the development of acetone in the mouth which can be smelled on the breath and is often mistaken for alcohol. Breath testing devices such as the Intoxilyzer are designed to detect ethyl alcohol. In cases involving hypoglycemia however, the breath testing device will mistake acetones on a diabetic's breath for ethyl alcohol and report an inaccurate result. In fact, the presence of acetones on a diabetes breath may cause an alcohol concentration to be reported as much as .02 greater than what it actually may be.
In contrast to a breath test, diabetes will not affect the accuracy of a result in cases where a blood test is used by police to determine a person's alcohol concentration. This is because blood tests specifically test for ethyl alcohol which is the impairment causing ingredient in all alcoholic drinks. Acetone will not be present in a person's blood like it would on the breath of someone suffering from diabetes and low blood sugar.
Despite their blood test result, people who suffer from diabetes can still point to their condition as a defense to a DUI charge. Diabetics experiencing hypoglycemia may have a slow and slurred speech, poor balance, impaired motor abilities, may appear drowsy, flushed and disoriented. Police will often incorrectly interpret these symptoms as alcohol impairment. Hypoglycemia can even cause the diabetic to stagger. Consequently, if a person is hypoglycemic, it would be extremely difficult or impossible for them to perform field tests such as the walk and turn or once leg stand.