Police officers notice drivers who are erratic and drift back and forth over lane markings. Their first suspicion is that the driver may be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

The officer pulls the driver over and asks the person to step out of the vehicle to take a field sobriety test. The driver fails the test, barely able to stand up. The person’s breath smells like alcohol. When the man also fails the breath test, the police officer arrests him and locks him in the back of the police cruiser. When they reach the detainment center, staff members come out to assist the intoxicated man into the building. To their shock, the man is dead.

Alcohol impairment and diabetic ketoacidosis share symptoms

Florida police received a call from a local retail store. An employee complained that a man was obstinately down on their floor near the cash register and refused to leave. According to a local news station, a shopper filmed the four Hialeah officers who showed up to deal with the man. As officers attempted to persuade the man to go, he became combative. They finally used force to subdue him. Police alleged the man assaulted them. The man needed help, not an arrest. He is pressing charges against law enforcement for bruises from police and inappropriate treatment.

The man later told a news reporter that he was in diabetic shock. He had suffered an uncontrolled blood sugar event in the store; he could not get up. He also could not hear or understand anything that was happening. As EMTs and paramedics know, people in a diabetic crisis can be difficult to control. They often experience severe confusion until their blood sugar levels return to normal through emergency treatment.

People in diabetic shock can stagger and lose coordination, making them appear to fail a field sobriety test. The ketones cause the person’s breath to smell like alcohol. As ketones continue to build in the body, the person goes into ketoacidosis. This is a medical emergency. Unless the person receives immediate medical treatment to remedy the blood sugar imbalance, he or she can die.

Breath tests are not perfect

 Minnesota law requires a person suspected of DWI to take a rigorous test by a DATAMASTER, a brand of breath test device. Manufacturers like to claim their brand of breath test device cannot give a false reading, but that is not the case. No device is 100% accurate. No matter what method the manufacturer uses inside the machine, several substances and conditions can cause untrustworthy test results. An incorrectly calibrated machine can also cause test inaccuracies.

Any person arrested due to a diabetic crisis that mimics substance abuse may want to follow the Florida man’s example. The person has a right to obtain legal representation from a professional who understands breath test machines and knows the conditions under which they may yield false results.