According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2020, there were 11,654 deaths from drunk driving crashes, which equates to one person every 45 minutes and/or 32 people per day. This was a 14% increase from 2019. Between 2011 and 2020, on average, 10,500 people died every year due to drunk driving crashes.
Because driving requires alertness, thinking, reasoning, muscle coordination, self-discipline, patience, judgement, and responsibility, consuming a substance that adversely affects the central nervous system will logically affect the person’s ability to perform those brain functions effectively, thus impairing their ability to drive. Alcohol impairs thinking, reasoning, and muscle coordination. The more alcohol that is consumed, the higher the levels rise in the person’s system, and the more impaired the driver becomes.
There are thousands of criminal cases related to DUIs, both from alcohol and other substances; thus there is a great need for attorneys to consult with experts when litigating these cases.
What Forensic Nurses Can Do
When reviewing DUI cases, there are several different approaches to the case that may be taken. A forensic nurse may be asked to provide opinions regarding one or more of the following:
- Victim’s injuries
- Defendant’s injuries
- Defendant’s medical conditions
Whether or not there is injury suffered by the victim(s), and the severity of those injuries, will be factors that are considered by the prosecution when determining what charges to file. The forensic nurse can help the attorneys on both sides of the table to understand the injuries, the treatment(s) rendered, and the long-term effects of those injuries. For example, if the victim suffers from a traumatic brain injury (TBI), it is important for the attorneys to understand if the injury was life-threatening, whether the victim will have long-term neurological issues and what potential complications may come from the TBI.
The defendant’s injuries may mimic the symptoms of intoxication and/or prevent the defendant from being able to consent to the police investigation. The forensic nurse can help identify what symptoms may or may not be related to intoxication and assist the attorneys in understanding what the common symptoms of injuries may be. An example of this includes concussion, where the defendant may not have outward signs of injury but the traumatic brain injury prevents them from comprehending the officer’s instructions and warnings. In addition, a concussion may cause the defendant to appear to be intoxicated during field sobriety tests. The forensic nurse can also help the attorneys identify which symptoms could be related to concussion. This is particularly important because concussion symptoms are often transient, and may be gone by the time the defendant is seen by emergency responders or in the emergency department.
Defendant’s Medical Conditions
Similarly to concussion, which is a traumatic injury, it is also possible for the defendant to have an underlying (non-traumatic) medical condition that causes them to fail the field sobriety tests. An officer may perceive it as a symptom of intoxication. The forensic nurse can help identify the symptoms of the underlying condition and educate the attorneys on those conditions and symptoms. A common example here is a seizure disorder. The post-ictal state of seizures has a strong similarity to intoxication.
Another role the forensic nurse may play is specifically in regard to the blood draw done by the phlebotomist. In some states, attorneys are challenging the use of the results if the blood draw is not done in a medically acceptable manner. A forensic nurse can testify in the hearing regarding the motion to exclude to educate the judge on proper procedures during a blood draw.
NHTSA. (2022). Drunk Driving. Retrieved from United States Department of Transportation: https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/drunk-driving
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