Medical Conditions that Can Look Like Impairment to Police

On behalf of The Berger Firm Jan. 17, 2020

Law enforcement officers have to perform basic medical evaluations during their efforts to enforce impaired driving statutes, which can lead to mistaken arrests for people with certain medical conditions. Officers will take information they have about how alcohol and other drugs affect the human body and compare that information to the behavior of drivers stopped for enforcement purposes.

From testing someone’s involuntary eye movements to making assumptions based on speech patterns and balance, police officers must use medical averages and standards to determine the likelihood that someone is under the influence while driving. Unfortunately, there are a host of medical conditions that can produce symptoms easily mistaken for impairments in drivers.

Anything from Diabetes to Neurological Conditions Can Look Like Intoxication

Any medical condition that impacts someone’s ability to speak clearly, walk neatly or maintain their balance could confuse officers and leave them thinking someone is drunk when they aren’t. For example, uncontrolled diabetes can sometimes cause issues with balance or even slurred speech. The same is true for ataxia, a debilitating neurological condition that can affect different motor functions.

Brain injuries and neurological conditions ranging from cerebral palsy to multiple sclerosis can affect someone’s speech and motor function enough to make officers suspect impairment instead of disability during a traffic stop.

Officers may choose to err on the side of caution and arrest someone with a valid medical reason for failing a field sobriety test. Demonstrating your medical condition and how it could contribute to an officer’s perception of intoxication can be part of a successful defense strategy for those facing DUI charges in Kentucky.