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People's Law Guide

 

Exercising, Boating or Work Can Cause You To Look Drunk Or High

09/03/12

You don't have to run a marathon to suffer from heat exhaustion. Boating, a game of tennis or a round of golf can cause you to display the identical symptoms which police officers associate with driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs. In fact, it's a misconception that heat exhaustion only occurs from outdoor activities. Weightlifting, yoga, and participation in marshal arts can also overheat your body, even when done in a comfortably air conditioned environment. Strenuous work performed inside warehouses, bakeries, and buildings under construction is also frequently associated with heat exhaustion.

Individuals suffering from heat exhaustion don't display the most obvious traits commonly exhibited by those whose condition has progressed into full blown heatstroke, such as vomiting or fainting. Cues as extreme as these which would cause concern among the affected person and those with him or her don't occur. Nobody, including the individual suffering from heat exhaustion, may have even noticed the diminishment of balance and coordination. Boaters commonly associate some instability to having "sea legs" or regaining their "land legs." Instead, the person suffering from heat exhaustion is likely feeling a need to go home for some rest. Instead of getting them to bed, a drive home can lead a person experiencing heat stroke to a stay in the county jail.

Police officers are trained to look for specific "abnormalities" which are exhibited by motorists who have had too much alcohol to drink, taken lawful medications or used illegal drugs. Driving patterns such as weaving (even within a single lane), lightly brushing wheels against a curb or driving at an unsteady pace can and do cause law enforcement officers to require drivers to pull-over. A motorist weary from heatstroke is likely to make any or all of these types of driving errors. Officers are trained to suspect alcohol or drugs when drivers have slurred speech, a flushed skin complexion, and a sweaty appearance. Emergency room personnel know these identical symptoms often mean the person they are attending to requires immediate hydration. However, a police officer will associate these same symptoms with DUI impairment, leading him or her to ask the motorist to perform a series of roadside sobriety tests, such as balancing while standing on one leg, walking heel to toe on a line which may not actually exist, or repeatedly bringing fingertips on alternating hands to the end point on a nose - while both eyes remain closed.

These physical tests, also referred to as divided attention exercises, become even more difficult to perform in persons who have become dehydrated. Signs of dehydration are known to include the following:

  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Sluggishness
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion
  • Headaches
  • Flushed skin complexion

If you look at any law enforcement website pertaining to drunk / drug impaired driving, these exact symptoms will be listed as the traits causing police officers to place motorists under arrest on DUI charges. Even when there is no odor of alcohol on the driver's breath, the officer will suspect use of drugs, prescribed or illegal, is causing the driver's impairment. If the motorist consumed some beer, wine or alcohol, even a minute amount, that beverage's odor will lead the arresting officer to blame drunkenness. Should a DUI breath test sample yield a reading too low to permit an arrest, the officer will request a urine sample. As you likely know, a high percentage of persons arrested on DUI charges refuse to blow air samples into the DUI breath test machine or to provide a urine sample, though the law requires that they do so. The officer and later down the road, the prosecuting attorney, will contend the driver refused to provide breath and urine samples in an attempt to conceal alcohol or drug use. If a urine sample is provided and laboratory tests find the presence of drugs, including lawfully prescribed medications, prosecutors will contend this is what caused the driver to violate DUI laws.

While most skilled DUI attorneys know how to "attack" urine sample evidence, few are aware how to carefully build a legal defense based upon heat exhaustion. That the person arrested may have been the only one or the most "affected" by the heat is explainable, as certain individuals are more susceptible to heat-related illnesses then others. Those most vulnerable to heat impairment include those taking lawful medications, persons having heart disease (even if not yet diagnosed), people who are older and overweight individuals. Tests can determine a person's body mass numerical score, providing further evidence of susceptibility to impairment by heat. Young and fit persons drinking caffeinated or sugary drinks to quench their thirsts also become increasingly susceptible to heat exhaustion.

To defend against a DUI arrest occurring due to heat exhaustion, witnesses need to be summoned to testify about the conditions and circumstances the motorist experienced prior to getting behind the wheel, whether they took breaks during their activity, and what type of non-alcoholic beverages they consumed - or if they didn't drink any fluids at all. Evidence of temperature and humidity is obtainable regardless of whether the person later arrested had been indoors or outside. Factors such as wind speed and water temperature often play a role in causing heat exhaustion.

Ironically, the fit individuals most likely to be physically active also suffer from dehydration and the heat. Football players, for example, are especially susceptible to heat exhaustion. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 9,000 cases of heat illnesses occur yearly among student athletes, the youngest of competitors. Lest we forget, people in Florida are particularly susceptible to suffering heat exhaustion.

Persons lacking medical training, including police officers and most motorists, lack the skills to differentiate whether their behavior was impacted by alcohol or drug use or heat induced complications. For many people, a DUI arrest resulted from their physical activity, not excessive drinking or drug use.

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