Report: Diabetic Shock Mistaken for DUI by Police

Posted by Steven Eversole | Aug 02, 2013 | 0 Comments

The woman was in diabetic shock and could have died without receiving prompt medical treatment.

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However, our Birmingham DUI defense attorneys understand that police responded to this medical emergency by slapping handcuffs on the woman, slamming her on the pavement and tossing her in the back of a patrol car.

The police had mistaken her condition, also known as hypoglycemia, for drunkenness. It almost cost the New Mexico woman her life.

The incident happened in Santa Fe in the middle of last month.

The woman was spotted driving erratically on the highway near the airport. She had reportedly blacked out, as the last thing she remembered was driving near her home, which was several miles away.

She then crashed into a truck and she was subsequently stopped by deputies.

There is no question at this point that she was a danger to others on the road and needed to be stopped. However, it wasn't an issue of negligence by intoxication. She in the midst of a medical emergency – and officers had no idea.

A dash camera video shows them roughly handcuffing her, putting her on the ground and then into the cruiser.

Eventually, emergency medical services personnel were called to medically clear her. It was at this time that they discovered her blood sugar level was in the 20 milligrams per deciliter range. A normal blood sugar level is between 70 and 100. Anything below 50 is in the danger zone. When it gets down into the 20s, a person may lose conscious, suffer seizures and reduced mental function.

She was rushed to the hospital, where she made a recovery.

It's not entirely unsurprising that officers might mistake this condition for intoxication, as many of the symptoms mirror drunkenness. Those symptoms include confusion, reduced reaction times and slurred speech. It has also been known to produce the smell of alcohol in some cases, and even trick a breathalyzer test into showing a false positive. That's because hypoglycemia produces a byproduct known as ketones, which excrete from the body as a form of alcohol.

Of course, police officers are not medical professionals, so they can't be expected to diagnose every condition they encounter. However, this case just goes to show that their judgment of a situation is highly subjective, and may be dramatically skewed from reality.

Other medical conditions that might cause the appearance of intoxication include:

–Drowsiness. Someone who is very sleepy is going to appear confused, disoriented, have delayed reaction times and may even slur his or her speech.

–Brain injury. This condition could manifest itself much later after the initial blow. Symptoms might include sudden mood changes, an inability to focus or perform simple tasks, clumsy hand-eye coordination, slurred speech, reduced verbal comprehension and dizziness.

–Alzheimer's disease. Conditions of dementia may reveal problems speaking. They may display drastic changes of mood and paranoia and may have trouble with basic memory tasks.

Again, officers can't be expected to diagnose every condition, but mistaking a serious medical condition for intoxication could have serious repercussions. Even if the condition isn't immediately diagnosed upon arrest, it's important that you or your loved one facing charges explore one of these possibilities as soon as possible – not only for the sake of your case, but for the sake of your overall well-being.


If you have been arrested for DUI in Birmingham, call Defense Lawyer Steven Eversole at (866) 831-5292.

Additional Resources:
NM Woman handcuffed after diabetic attack, car crash, Staff Report, 12 News Now
More Blog Entries:
Drug Recognition Experts' Judgment Not an Exact Science, June 29, 2013, Birmingham DUI Lawyer Blog

About the Author

Steven Eversole

J.D., Samford University's Cumberland School of Law, Birmingham, Alabama B.A., University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

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