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Attorneys William R. Christoph & Nicholas W. Christoph

Could your medical condition or other factor appear to be DUI impairment?

On Behalf of | Nov 9, 2021

Driving under the influence can create a host of problems for those arrested, charged or convicted. Understanding that appearance of being under the influence can be confused with an unrelated medical issue or alternative explanation is one of the important factors to be considered in the defense of Driving Under the Influence cases.   

Conditions that can falsely appear to be impairment

During a roadside stop, police officers often look at a driver’s eyes, behavior, speech and body movements and field sobriety testing for signs of drug or alcohol impairment.

However, these observations can be misleading and lead to incorrect conclusions resulting in DUI charges. For instance:

  • A person’s eyes can be red or glassy because of tiredness, allergies, dehydration, an eye condition, irritation or infection.
  • Someone with sleep apnea, dementia, hormonal imbalance or unrelated cognitive issue can show signs of mild cognitive impairment.
  • A stroke, neuromuscular disorder or language barrier can affect a person’s speech and comprehension.
  • Inner ear problems, joint issues, age, injuries or stress can adversely affect a person’s balance and field sobriety testing.

These underlying conditions can lead police to the wrong conclusion of alcohol or drug impairment during a traffic stop.

Other factors that can trigger failed field sobriety tests

Environmental factors and some law enforcement testing procedures can also cause a person to seem impaired or fail roadside tests. For instance, uneven ground, type of footwear, unclear instructions and poor lighting can adversely affect someone performing sobriety tests.

It is also important to note that roadside breath tests and drug screening tests are indicators of alcohol or drug involvement but not conclusive.  Decisions to arrest are made in the field by officers based on observations, field testing and if a blood test is being used, the results may take several weeks to be completed by the crime lab and be accurate for time of the test but are not available at time of arrest. Crime lab certified Breathalyzers may be within tolerance and accurate, in most cases, for a blood alcohol level at the moment of testing. Blood alcohol results should be extrapolated to “Time of Driving” for possible defense consideration. The time of driving alcohol or drug level may be rising or falling based on a number of factors. Calibration, maintenance and testing procedures should also be reviewed for accuracy. Shortcuts or bias can affect conclusions in the field.

Alternative explanations for observed behavior and testing is an important consideration in DUI Defense analysis 

Medical conditions and environmental factors are just some of the reasons behind mistaken conclusions of “Driving under the Influence” that lead to DUI arrests and possible convictions. Defending against DUI charges includes looking into alternative explanations for observed behavior and field testing that an officer may feel supports alcohol or drug impairment.



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