Having diabetes can sometimes be a defense to Nevada DUI charges. This is because diabetics produce ketones, which may cause DUI breath tests to yield inaccurately high readings that appear to detect alcohol in peoples’ breath even when they have not consumed any alcohol at all.
In this article, our Las Vegas DUI Attorneys discuss how diabetics who take breath tests may produce inflated BAC (blood alcohol content) numbers and exhibit intoxication-like symptoms. This, in turn, may help fight drunk driving charges in Nevada.
- What is diabetes?
- How does having diabetes cause false arrests and convictions in Nevada?
- How does diabetes serve as a defense to DUI charges?
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 emit 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 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:
Nevada DUI Breath Test
People arrested for drunk driving in Nevada are typically given the choice to take a DUI breath test or a 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 bear similarity to isopropyl alcohol, which is different from the ethyl alcohol in that people drink. However, 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
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:
- a ruddy complexion
- nausea and/or vomiting,
- 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.
Arrested? Call an attorney…
For a consultation with our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys, call us. We may be able to get the DUI charge knocked down to a lesser charge or dismissed completely without a trial.
In California? See our article on diabetes as a California DUI defense.
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.