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When Medical Conditions Lead to DUIs

By San Diego Attorney on November 1, 2021

In order to be charged with a DUI, a police officer must have a reasonable suspicion of that to pull you over. They may claim you were speeding, weaving between lanes, or stepping on your brakes intermittently. However, not all of these actions are the result of alcohol or drug use. Even if you fail a field sobriety test, that does not always mean that you were intoxicated. In some cases, a medical condition can result in symptoms that mimic intoxication and lead to a false positive during a traffic stop.

NHTSA Sanctioned Field Sobriety Tests

When an officer pulls a driver over under suspicion of a DUI, they may request the driver to take a standard field sobriety test. Drivers do have the right to refuse a test, but officers often pressure drivers to take them by implying they may be arrested anyways or claiming that if they are sober, they have nothing to hide. In any case, an officer can request three different tests:

  • One Leg Stand: During a one leg stand, an officer will ask you to stand on one leg and raise the other legs six inches off the ground, all while counting. The officer may stop the test after 30 seconds. This test is designed to evaluate your coordination and balance, which can be affected by drugs or alcohol. However, simply using your arms to balance or putting your foot down can result in a failure.
  • Walk and Turn: With a walk and turn, an officer will have you walk heel to toe in a straight line for nine steps. Then, you will have to turn around and repeat the test. Swaying off the line, stopping, using your arms to balance yourself, or not taking the full nine steps can lead to a failure.
  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus: This test involves an officer asking you to follow an object or light with your eyes. The goal is to check your nystagmus, or eyes, for sudden movements or dilated pupils, which are a sign of drug use.

While sanctioned by the NHTSA and used by most law enforcement in the country, there are limitations to field sobriety tests. These tests were designed and developed in closed testing environments, not on the side of highways or at anxiety inducing traffic stops. A lack of coordination and balance are also the result of a number of conditions and may not mean that a driver is intoxicated. This is especially true if you have a medical condition.

Medical Conditions That Lead to False Arrests

All three of the standard field sobriety tests can result in false positives if you have certain medical conditions. Diabetics, for example, can experience hypoglycemia due to low blood sugar, which results in slurred speech, poor balance, and disorientation. When observed under a one leg stand test, it may look like the driver is intoxicated when he or she only needs to increase their blood sugar.

Other conditions that can affect a field sobriety test include:

  • Injuries to the legs or hips
  • Back problems
  • Migraines
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • High or low blood sugar levels
  • Inner ear conditions
  • Neurological conditions that affect eye movements
  • Old age
  • Being overweight or obese

There are also other conditions, medications, and lifestyle choices that can affect breathalyzer tests, such as GERD (acid reflex), diabetes, cough syrup, mouthwash, dental medication, and even crash diets.

If you were arrested for a DUI, it is important to report all medical conditions to your attorney. Our San Diego criminal defense lawyer at jD Law Criminal Defense Attorneys has decades of experience as a former LAPD investigator and Certified Criminal Law Specialist. He can use his experience and your medical records to fight your charges and advocate for a complete dismissal. Call us today at (760) 630-2000 to get a free case evaluation.

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