AskNadia: Convicted of a DUI Because of My DKA

Dear Nadia:

I was arrested and charged with a DUI (driving under the influence) while experiencing DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis) and was convicted. There was no information any doctor would elaborate on. My attorney said there was no other option than to plead guilty.

Vic B

Dear Vic:

I am sorry to hear about you’re your conviction. Your DKA should not have turned into a conviction—as if diabetes is not expensive already.

There’s much to say about what happened to you, which by the way is not a rare occurrence.

Suspicion of DUI is confirmed in almost every US state and municipality by a breathalyzer test. The device, first offered in 1954, quickly became police and sheriff departments’ favorite non-invasive means of determining alcohol levels. But a major complaint against breathalyzer tests is that they can mistake DKA for high alcohol levels. Many—perhaps most—law enforcement officers are still not aware of DKA; what it is and how its symptoms can manifest as drunkenness.

You didn’t say whether your attorney was one who specializes in DUI cases. An attorney who knows DUI laws well is probably also likely to know about DKA. If so, he/she can be in a good position to have the DUI charge overruled. The reason for that is even though most courts accept breathalyzer results as compelling evidence, they are receptive to a well-presented case against the charge and will dismiss breathalyzer evidence in some cases.

Steps to Avoiding Future DUI Citations

From your question, I’m assuming that there was not enough data or timeliness from your arrest citation for any doctor to definitively say whether you were experiencing DKA. In any future contacts with law enforcement officers you have to be able to persuade them to at least consider the possibility that they are dealing with a diabetic person who is in the midst of a health crisis, not inebriation. Here are some precautions you can take:

·         Check out drunk driving attorneys in your area and learn which ones are familiar with DKA. Find one you are comfortable with and give him/her of copy of your medical records. If you are arrested, you attorney will know what’s going on.

·         Ask your doctor to give you a “To Whom It May Concern” letter establishing that you have been diagnosed as a person with diabetes who has suffered or can suffer from DKA.

·         Carry a list of DKA symptoms from a reputable medical source. Have the URL for that source saved to your phone so that you can call it up in front of an officer.

·         Go online and search for “DUI and DKA” to learn the current state of research and your state motor vehicle department’s awareness or lack of awareness of the potential for a DKA episode to be mistaken for driving under the influence. If your state has a vehicle code section that deals with which defenses against a DUI citation it will consider, download it for use in any next encounter you have with a law enforcement officer.

·         Check out medical ID bracelets, necklaces, tattoos, and other means of alerting law enforcement and medical personnel that you could well be experiencing DKA. Just to be sure, you might want to double up: a bracelet and a necklace.

It distresses me to learn about cases like yours. Every few years there are stories in the media about people with diabetes experiencing severe hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia who are mistaken for drunks by law enforcement. They’re often roughed up because their behavior makes them seem spacey, or falling-down drunk, or hostile, or obstinate about following commands—all direct challenges to an officer’s orders.

Larger metro police departments are catching on to diabetic symptoms that mimic drunkenness, but there’s still a way to go. Even if every law enforcement officer were aware of DKA, it would still make good sense to be prepared for a DUI accusation with the steps I suggest above.

You might also be interested in reading this story about Mr. America who also had a run in with the law for a different reason.


Some Helpful Sources:

Diabetes Ketoacidosis Definition and Symptoms

Understanding the DUI Police Report

What the State Must Prove to Convict You of DWI

Nadia’s feedback on your question is in no way intended to initiate or replace your healthcare professionals’ therapy or advice. Please check in with your medical team to discuss your diabetes management concerns.

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About Nadia:

Nadia holds 19 nominations for her work as a diabetes advocate. Her passion for working in the diabetes community stemmed from her personal loss—a mother and a brother who both succumbed from the effects of type 2 diabetes. She has used her experience as a caretaker to forge a career in helping others.

Nadia has received 19 nominations for her work as a diabetes advocate.
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For 27 years, Diabetes Health has contributed complimentary copies of the magazine to healthcare professionals and pharmacies that use the publication as an educational resource for patients living with diabetes.

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