Man’s Medical Condition Allegedly Affects Breathalyzer Reading

Victoria Negron

Written by
— Updated on July 12, 2018

Breathalyzer Expert

This case involves a diabetic man who drove himself to a bar for an event with a group of his coworkers. The man claimed only to have had 3 drinks while at the event. Around 11:30 pm, the man left the event and drove home. While on the highway, he was pulled over for speeding. According to the officer who pulled him over, the man was driving at 85 mph in a 55 mph zone. The man was given a breathalyzer test which came back with a reading of .20 and was charged with driving while intoxicated. The man claimed that his diabetes contributed to an unfairly high breathalyzer reading. An expert in pharmaceutical toxicology was sought to discuss the extent to which the man’s diabetes and ketoacidosis could have affected the breathalyzer results.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1. Is it possible for ketoacidosis to cause inaccurate breathalyzer readings?

Expert Witness Response E-007365

Acetone is produced during diabetic acidosis and is exhaled similar to ethanol. It is detected on many breathalyzer instruments as ethanol. The common intoxilyzer detects acetone as ethanol because it absorbs infrared energy in the 3.38 to 3.40 micron range, the same range where ethanol is found. Breath acetone is generally regarded as an indicator of a serious diabetic acidosis among Type 1 diabetics. Peer-reviewed studies have demonstrated that acetone in the breath of an untreated diabetic can contribute and result in an erroneously high BAC. In the current case, a 0.2% ethanol reading is higher than reported in the literature. Mormann et al., has documented diabetic subjects with acetone levels sufficient to produce a BAC of 0.06% In the current matter, the ethanol level could be found as unreliable. I would need to review the complete file as well as the most current studies with respect to the maximum error rate. Also need to know the manufacturer, model number, and year of the breathalyzer used.

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