Diabetes as a DUI Defense in Nevada
(Explained by Las Vegas Criminal Defense Attorneys)

Having diabetes may be a defense to Nevada DUI charges. This is because diabetics produce "ketones," which may cause Nevada DUI breath tests to yield inaccurately high readings and the driver to appear inebriated when he/she is not.

In this article our Las Vegas DUI Defense Attorneys discuss how diabetics who take breath tests may produce inflated Nevada BAC (blood alcohol content) numbers and exhibit intoxication-like symptoms. This in turn may help fight drunk driving charges in Nevada. (Click on a question below to go directly to that topic.)  

  1. What is diabetes?
  2. How does having diabetes cause false arrests and convictions in Nevada?
  3. How does diabetes serve as a defense to DUI charges?
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Nevada breathalyzer results may be inaccurate if the person has diabetes.

1) What is diabetes?

People typically rely on carbohydrates in their diet to fuel their energy. The body does this by breaking carbs into sugars, including glucose (called "blood sugar"). When the body's small intestines emits glucose into the bloodstream, a non-diabetic's pancreas will release the hormone insulin to aid in delivering the glucose to the rest of the body.1 But a diabetic's pancreas produces insufficient insulin, thereby forcing the body to rule out glucose as a fuel source and instead rely on fat...

The liver is the organ that breaks down fat. In doing so, the liver creates a waste acid byproducts called “ketones.” The body excretes ketones through urine and the person's breath. In diabetics, the absence of insulin causes the liver to produce a buildup of ketones. And this excess of ketones can cause the possibly lethal condition of diabetic ketoacidosis ("DKA").2

2) How does having diabetes cause false DUI arrests and convictions in Nevada?

A sober person who has diabetes may cause a false positive DUI breath test and/or the appearance of being intoxicated:

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A diabetic may have an excess of ketones, which may cause inaccurately high BAC readings in Nevada DUI cases.
Nevada DUI Breath Test

People arrested for drunk driving in Nevada are typically given the choice to take a Nevada DUI breath test or a Nevada DUI blood test to measure blood alcohol content (BAC). Driving with a BAC of .08% or higher is unlawful in Nevada even if the person is otherwise driving safely and does not feel impaired.

As explained above, diabetics are more likely to have an excess of ketones...called "ketosis"...in their system. Ketones bears similarity to isopropyl alcohol, which is different from the ethyl alcohol in that people drink. However, Nevada DUI breathalyzers do not always distinguish between ethyl alcohol and ketones. Therefore, sober diabetics who blow into a breathalyzer may receive a falsely elevated BAC result due to their ketones.3

Intoxication-like symptoms

When police are deciding whether to arrest someone for DUI in Nevada, they look for physical and behavioral signs of intoxication. However, a sober diabetic suffering from DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis) may exhibit symptoms similar to drunkenness.4 Common DKA symptoms that resemble being inebriated include any of the following:

  • sluggishness
  • a ruddy complexion
  • nausea and/or vomiting,
  • confusion
  • lack of coordination
  • "fruity" breath

Therefore, diabetics who have not been drinking may appear intoxicated even though they are merely exhibiting DKA symptoms.

3) How does diabetes serve as a defense to Nevada DUI charges?

Driving while diabetic is not a crime in Nevada. Therefore, DUI charges should be dismissed if the criminal defense attorney can show the prosecutor that the defendant's high BAC numbers and/or intoxicated-like appearance resulted from diabetes instead of drinking.

In these types of cases, criminal defense attorneys often rely on medical records and the testimony of medical experts to show the court that the defendant is a diabetes patient. And since diabetes can cause inaccurate breathalyzer results and drunk-like behavior, a diagnosis of diabetes may be able to raise a reasonable doubt as to whether the defendant was driving while intoxicated. Learn more about taking a Nevada DUI case to trial.

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Arrested? Call an attorney...

For a FREE consultation with our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys, call us at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673). We may be able to get the DUI charge knocked down to a lesser charge or dismissed completely without a trial.

For information on diabetes as a California DUI defense, see our article on diabetes as a California DUI defense.

Legal References: 

1 WebMD, Diabetes Health Center: Ketones; Harvard School of Public Health, Carbohydrates and Blood Sugar.

2 American Diabetes Association, Hyperglycemia (High blood glucose);Alice and Fred Ottoboni, Ketosis, Ketone Bodies, and Ketoacidosis: Modern Nutritional Diseases, 2nd Edition, Chapter 8 (Lipids), February 20th, 2013.

3 Jeanette Allen Behre, Studies in Ketone Body Excretion, Journal of Biological Chemistry, June 25, 1931, J. Biol. Chem. 1931, 92:679-697; Jeanette Allen Behre, Studies in Ketone Body Excretion, Journal of Biological Chemistry, June 25, 1931, J. Biol. Chem. 1931, 92:679-697; Craig Freudenrich, Ph.D., How Alcohol Works: Ethyl Alcohol; Lawrence Taylor, Drunk Driving Defense 3d Edition, page 685.

4 American Diabetes Association, DKA (Ketoacidosis) & Ketones.

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