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Undiagnosed diabetes could lead to a potential DWI charge

The American justice system offers everyone accused of a crime the ability to mount a defense against the charges. There is a presumption of innocence that protects citizens and has given rise to the popular term “innocent until proven guilty.” However, for some people accused of crimes, the justice system and society seem to assume the individual is guilty.

People accused of driving while intoxicated (DWI) in Virginia often feel like they can’t fight the charges. Many law enforcement officials and even court staff seem to assume that a failed field sobriety test or a positive breath test conclusively prove someone has broken the law. In reality, however, both breath tests and field sobriety tests are as fallible as the person administrating them. One common medical condition could trick both tests and get some people into serious trouble.

Undiagnosed and uncontrolled diabetes can impact your driving

Many DWI stops initiate when an officer sees someone driving poorly. Swerving, grazing the center line with your tire or even driving more slowly than traffic could also result in a roadside stop. The law enforcement officer involved will then administer field sobriety and chemical tests to affirm or disprove the involvement of alcohol.

However, untreated diabetes can cause a condition known as diabetic ketoacidosis. When your body isn’t capable of making enough insulin to process sugars, it may start burning body fat for fuel instead of using energy from your food. While losing some body fat may sound desirable for many, diabetic ketoacidosis can cause other symptoms as well.

How diabetes can make you seem impaired when you’re not

Symptoms for diabetic ketoacidosis can crop up quickly, within even a single day. If you don’t have a diagnosis as prediabetic and weren’t monitoring blood sugar or aware of these symptoms, you may overlook them at first.

People may feel incredibly thirsty, resulting in urinating more often, as well as nausea, pain in the abdomen, difficulty breathing, sweet or fruity breath, fatigue, weakness and confusion. Confusion, combined with muscle weakness and shorter breath, can all look like intoxication to an officer during a field test. Unfortunately, the issue doesn’t end there.

The sweet breath of ketoacidocis is also an issue

People experiencing diabetic ketoacidosis are often described as having sweet or fruity breath. Other people may describe the scent as similar to nail polish remover, and with good reason. Ketones build up in your blood, and one of the most noticeable is acetone. Acetone is also used as nail polish remover.

When your body burns fat for fuel, acetone on your breath is a common side effect. Unfortunately, breath tests for alcohol present positive results for an entire family of chemical compounds, including acetone. It is possible for someone who hasn’t had anything to drink to wind up with a positive breath test due to the presence of acetone.

As these overlapping issues related to a common medical condition, diabetes, shows, it is possible for someone to end up charged with a DWI offense without actually breaking the law. Those facing DWI charges deserve the same assumption of innocence and opportunity for defense afforded to those accused of different crimes.