Monthly Archives: August 2020

Driving While Diabetic: Irregular Blood Sugar Levels May Lead to a DUI Arrest

Approximately ten percent of Americans are believed to have diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects the body’s ability to produce or use insulin. Without treatment, people with diabetes may be unable to control their blood glucose levels. This can lead to a host of consequences including heart disease, kidney disease, loss of vision, nerve damage, and even death.

In addition to being potentially life-threatening, uncontrolled diabetes may also lead to a DUI arrest or conviction. The symptoms associated with uncontrolled diabetes can mimic the indicators of intoxication that law enforcement officers look for during a DUI investigation. Not only this, but even breath testing devices can return a “false positive” and indicate that a person with uncontrolled diabetes has alcohol in their systems when they do not.

Hypoglycemia Symptoms and DUI Signs of Impairment

 During any California DUI investigation, law enforcement officers are trained to look for and document “signs of impairment.” Officers use these signs of impairment as evidence to support their conclusions that someone is driving under the influence when making an DUI arrest. A person with diabetes suffering from hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels) can exhibit some of the same signs that a person under the influence of alcohol might exhibit, including:

  • Confusion about one’s surroundings
  • Sleepiness or lethargy
  • Nervousness
  • Speech that is slurred
  • Swaying while standing or inability to balance while walking

These conditions may cause the driver to perform the standardized field sobriety tests poorly. This, in turn, can provide even more evidence for an officer to place the driver under arrest for DUI. Although the national training materials used to educate officers about the detection and investigation of DUI cases encourages officers to ask whether the driver suffers from medical conditions like diabetes, not all officers take this important step during their investigations. Additionally, a driver may not even know that they suffer from conditions like diabetes.

Hyperglycemia Symptoms and the DUI Breath Tests

 At the opposite end of the spectrum from hypoglycemia, diabetics who experience hyperglycemia (periods of elevated blood sugar levels) may also be mistaken for being under the influence. Another sign of impairment that officers look for when conducting a DUI investigation is an odor of alcohol coming from the driver’s person or breath. A diabetic driver who is hyperglycemic may have an odor on their breath that smells fruity. This can be mistaken for alcohol by law enforcement officers, especially if the officer is not aware of the driver’s medical condition.

It is not just human officers who can be fooled by mistaking hyperglycemia for alcohol impairment. In Type 2 diabetics, the body is unable to efficiently use its own insulin to break down glucose in the body for fuel. As a result, the body’s liver processes fat for fuel. This process causes the body to produce ketones. (Low-carb diets like the keto diet may also result in the production of ketones). Because the chemical composition of ketones is similar to ethyl alcohol, breath testing devices can mistake ketones for the presence of alcohol.  

Prevailing in a California DUI Claim When Diabetic

 If you are arrested and charged with DUI because the officer mistook your diabetes symptoms for signs of impairment, you may still be able to prevail in your case. Evidence of your diabetes diagnosis and your experience with managing your blood sugar levels may be relevant. In addition, the effectiveness of any medications or insulin you are taking and any recent documentation you may have concerning your blood sugar readings may help establish that the officer was not observing signs of alcohol impairment but rather symptoms of diabetes.

Breath tests are a common feature in many California DUI cases. They are, however, inherently unreliable. Despite advances in law enforcement technology, breath testing machines are still not able to effectively and reliably distinguish between isopropyl alcohol – the type of alcohol ketones most nearly approximate – and ethyl alcohol found in alcoholic beverages. Although a California DUI defense attorney cannot challenge the accuracy of breathalyzers in general, evidence may be introduced that the particular breathalyzer used in the arrest was faulty.

Advice for California Diabetics with Uncontrolled Blood Glucose

Whether a driver has Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, it is critical that the person monitor their blood sugar levels, take any insulin or medication as directed, and make and keep regular appointments with their doctor. This may help to reduce the number of hypoglycemic or hyperglycemic incidents and thereby reduce the risk of an erroneous DUI arrest or charge. More than this, these steps are essential to reducing the chance of nerve and kidney damage vision problems, and premature death. If one is stopped for “driving while diabetic” and is experiencing a severe hypo- or hyperglycemic event, informing the officer of your condition may help you obtain the emergency medical care you need.

What about the diabetic driver who is pulled over and is investigated for DUI but who is not experiencing a medical emergency or in immediate danger from high or low blood glucose levels? Drivers should remember that they do not need to answer any questions from law enforcement officers. Additionally, California drivers have no obligation to complete the field sobriety tests and may refuse to provide a pre-arrest, roadside breath sample. Absent objective indicia of diabetes (such as insulin and syringes or prescription medication) in your vehicle, informing the officer about one’s diabetes may not prevent an arrest for DUI.

Having said that, a person charged with a DUI never has to prove their innocence. However, an experienced DUI attorney may be able to develop a defense strategy in part on a person’s health condition such as diabetes, especially when the symptoms of intoxication and the conditions are indistinguishable.

Can a Phone Predict Whether a Person is Too Drunk to Drive?

Throughout the years, we’ve discussed the different things that a person can do to prevent themselves or others from driving drunk. Amongst them, you’ve heard me mention personal breathalyzers that a person can purchase to help them gauge whether they or someone else should be getting behind the wheel. More convenient and affordable than an actual breathalyzer for the average consumer might be a breathalyzer attachment to a smartphone, which are becoming increasingly popular.

Well, smartphones may no longer even need the breathalyzer attachment to tell someone that they’re too drunk to drive using the accelerometer that is embedded in most smartphones.

According to a study published on August 18th in the Journal of Alcohol and Drugs, smartphones may help predict when a person is too drunk to drive by measuring changes in walking patterns.

Researchers from the University of Pittsburg provided enough alcohol to volunteer participants to raise their blood alcohol content levels to approximately 0.20 percent, and asked them to drink it in an hour or less.

In addition to being well over the legal limit of 0.08 percent in all states but Utah (where the legal limit is 0.05 percent), most individuals would be experiencing the telltale signs of intoxication; disorientation, loss of coordination, dizziness, and trouble walking or standing.

The researchers then monitored the volunteers over the next seven hours to take measurements of their respective blood alcohol content levels every half hour, and have them walk 10 steps in a line then turn around every hour. During this time, smartphones were affixed to the participants’ lower back to measure specific bodily movements.

Based on the measurements recorded on the cellphone, the researchers were able to predict, with 90 percent accuracy, when the blood alcohol concentration for a participant was over the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

Lead researcher Brian Suffoletto, now at Stanford University, acknowledged that the next step is to determine if it is still possible to make the same predictions when participants’ phones are in their hand or in their pocket, the places people most often keep their phones, not lower back.

“Despite these limitations, this proof-of-concept study provides a foundation for future research on using smartphones to remotely detect alcohol-related impairments,” said Suffoleto.

“I lost a close friend to a drinking and driving crash in college,” said Suffoletto in a press release. “And as an emergency physician, I have taken care of scores of adults with injuries related to acute alcohol intoxication. Because of this, I have dedicated the past 10 years to testing digital interventions to prevent deaths and injury related to excessive alcohol consumption.”

One could see the possibilities in drunk driving prevention. With further research and development of apps that are based on what this study is suggesting, it may be possible to soon have an app that, quite literally, will tell you that you are too drunk to drive.  

 

Motion to Suppress Evidence in a California DUI

From a prosecutor’s perspective, presenting a successful DUI case is a bit like putting together a puzzle. The prosecutor must bring together different “pieces” of evidence – breath or blood test results, the driver’s performance during field sobriety tests, and statements made by the driver during the investigation – in order to secure a conviction. If someone were to take away some or all of these pieces of evidence, the prosecutor’s job becomes much more difficult – if not impossible.

The way in which a person charged with DUI removes these puzzle pieces from the prosecutor’s case is through a motion to suppress evidence. This is a legal motion that asks the court to keep illegally-obtained evidence from being used in court against the person charged with DUI. Filing, presenting, and successfully using these motions may have a significant impact on the outcome of a California DUI case.

What is the Motion to Suppress Evidence?

Motions to suppress evidence in DUI cases are permitted by California Penal Code 1538.5. This section says, “A defendant may move … to suppress as evidence any tangible or intangible thing obtained as the result of a search or seizure.” “Tangible” things would include evidence such as alcohol containers, photographs, or receipts from bars, and the printouts or results of alcohol tests. “Intangible” evidence would include statements made by the accused driver or the statements of police officers or witnesses.

California Penal Code 1538.5 permits defendants to file motions to suppress where law enforcement officers obtain tangible or intangible evidence through illegal searches and seizures. Examples of illegally-obtained evidence in DUI cases can include:

  • Statements from the driver obtained in violation of Miranda
  • A driver’s field sobriety tests or evidence found in their car if the officer had no reasonable suspicion to stop the driver’s car
  • Breath or blood test results from samples that were illegally collected or obtained following an unlawful arrest
  • Searches or seizures based upon a defective warrant

One motion to suppress may cover only one specific piece of evidence, such as the driver’s blood test results. Alternatively, one motion may encompass many items of evidence, like “all evidence obtained after and stemming from” the driver’s illegal arrest.

Motions to suppress evidence are designed to discourage unlawful, unconstitutional, and unconscionable behavior by law enforcement officers during investigations. Thus, a motion to suppress may be successful, for example, even if law enforcement had a valid warrant to search or seize evidence but acted unlawfully in collecting that evidence.

What is the Process to File a Motion to Suppress Evidence in California?

While someone could move to suppress evidence in the midst of their trial when the prosecutor tries to present the evidence to the judge or jury, the better practice is to seek to suppress evidence earlier, ahead of trial. The person accused of DUI will file their motion with the court hearing their case. The motion will need to describe the evidence the person wants suppressed and the factual and legal reasons why such evidence should be suppressed.

Once filed, the motion will be set for a hearing with the court, meaning the judge on the case, the prosecutor, and the defense attorney. At this hearing, if any evidence was obtained without a warrant, it is the prosecutor’s responsibility to show the court that the evidence complained about in the motion was lawfully obtained. The driver who filed the motion to suppress is not required to prove that the evidence was unlawfully obtained, unless a warrant was used to obtain the evidence.

The judge will rule on the motion rather quickly; most times, the judge will announce their ruling at the conclusion of the hearing while both the prosecutor and the accused (and their defense attorney) are still in court. If the motion is granted, the evidence described in the motion will be suppressed, and the prosecutor will not be able to discuss or introduce the suppressed evidence at any future hearing or at trial

How can a Motion to Suppress Lead to Acquittal?

What happens next depends on how important the suppressed evidence is to the prosecutor’s case. A suppressed incriminating statement (a driver’s statement that they “drank six beers about an hour ago”) or suppressed alcohol test results, may make it impossible for the prosecutor to prove the driver was driving while impaired. As a result, the prosecutor may need to change the DUI charge to a less serious offense or dismiss the DUI charge altogether. Remember that puzzle that the prosecutor is trying to put together? It’s going to be that much more difficult to put the puzzle together while missing such big pieces.

What Happens if the Court Denies a Motion to Suppress?

If a person’s motion to suppress evidence is denied, then that means that the prosecutor can discuss and admit the evidence in question. While the person may request the court reconsider their motion to suppress, the court will not likely change its mind absent new, binding law or significant and newly-discovered facts.

If the person is eventually convicted of DUI, they may appeal their conviction to an appellate court. There, they can argue that the trial court was incorrect in denying the motion to suppress. If the trial court should have granted the motion and suppressed the evidence, the appellate court may send the case back to the trial court with appropriate instructions.

Some Final Thoughts

As can be seen, a motion to suppress evidence can be a powerful tool in defending oneself against DUI charges in California. Knowing what evidence should be suppressed in a DUI case takes legal knowledge and experience. While a driver with no legal background could learn how to write and file a motion to suppress evidence, they would likely fail to identify evidence that could be suppressed or would miss legal precedents that would help their case. Bottom line: An experienced California DUI lawyer can help drivers facing charges protect themselves and their rights from overzealous police officers and prosecutors.

 

California Driver Charged with Murder after DUI-Involved Street Racing Death

Back in 2012, Louie Robert Villa, of Santa Ana pleaded guilty to a California DUI. When Villa was sentenced on the DUI he was told by the judge, “You are hereby advised that being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both, impairs your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. Therefore, it is extremely dangerous to human life to drive while under the influence or alcohol or drugs, or both. If you continue to drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both, and, as a result of that driving, someone is killed, you can be charged with murder.”

The advisement, known as the Watson advisement, is routinely read to people who are pleading guilty to a California DUI by the judge in their case.

Prior to the landmark case of People v. Watson in 1981, a DUI suspect could only be charged with manslaughter if their drunk driving led to the death of someone. To be charged with murder, a person had to intend to kill someone else to be charged and convicted of murder. However, the California Supreme Court said that only “implied malice” needed to be present for someone to be charged and convicted of murder in the context of a DUI. This meant that a person need not have actual intent to kill, but that they acted with reckless disregard for human life.

The practical effect of the Watson case was that the advisement became a part of sentencing for convicted drunk driving defendants. This allowed prosecutors to find implied malice, or that the defendant acted with reckless disregard for human life, and thus charge second degree murder, should the defendant drive drunk again and kill someone. Although common sense tells us that it is dangerous to drive drunk, when a drunk driver kills someone and they haven’t suffered any prior DUI convictions, they will still be charged with manslaughter unless the prosecutor can prove that they actually knew it was dangerous to human life to drive drunk.

Last week, Villa, now 29 years old, was street racing with 24-year-old Ricardo Tolento, in Santa Ana when his BMW collided with a pickup truck which was making a left turn. The driver of the pickup truck was Orange County Register editor Eugene Harbrecht. The impact of the collision caused Harbrecht’s truck to land on its side 50 feet way and catch fire. Although good Samaritans pulled Harbrecht out of the vehicle, he was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Villa was injured and taken to the hospital. Tolento fled the scene but was apprehended a short time later.

“An illegal street race and a repeat drunk driver who had been warned about the dangers of driving under the influence collided in the middle of the day on a Santa Ana street, resulting in a tragedy that didn’t have to happen,” O.C. District Attorney Todd Spitzer said in a statement. “Because of the selfish actions of two strangers, a wife will never see her husband again and many more lost a treasured friend and colleague.”

Tolento faces up to 11 years in prison if convicted on all charges, none of which include murder. Why? Likely, this was Tolento’s first DUI, which means he was never expressly advised that it is dangerous to drive drunk, making it difficult for prosecutors to prove implied malice.

Villa, on the other hand, was charged with second degree murder. Why? He was read the Watson advisement back in 2012 and was made expressly aware that it was dangerous to drive drunk, giving prosecutors the implied malice they needed to charge murder. In addition to the murder charge, he was charged with one felony count each of driving under the influence of alcohol causing great bodily injury while street racing and driving under the influence of alcohol with a blood alcohol level of greater than 0.08 percent,  misdemeanor street racing, and misdemeanor driving on a revoked or suspended license.