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Head Injuries May Affect DUI Case: Alcohol or Concussion


 Your helpful attorneys from Scrofano Law PC offer this comprehensive guide: “Head Injuries May Affect DUI Case: Alcohol or Concussion.” Reach out for a consult.

Concussions From Head Injuries in DUI Cases


Driving under the influence in Washington, D.C., is a criminal offense, and even a misdemeanor DUI can result in jail time and expensive fines. Technically, a DUI charge means you are operating a vehicle while under the influence of an illegal substance such as alcohol, and your ability to drive is impaired.

Establishing that you are driving under the influence is generally done through a police officer administering a field sobriety test or breath test. Poor performance on the field sobriety tests and the observation of the police officer regarding your behavior are enough to hold you on a DUI charge. Is it possible to appear to be driving under the influence if you have suffered a serious head injury, such as a concussion?

In some cases, the results of field sobriety tests might wrongfully indicate alcohol intoxication if you have a head trauma. If you believe you were charged with DUI in Washington, DC, by mistake, you should speak to an experienced criminal lawyer with knowledge of Washington D.C. DUI laws.


Concussion Vs. Alcohol


A concussion is a mild form of traumatic brain injury (TBI) triggered by an impact on your head, including any incident that causes your brain to shift within the skull. An external impact during a car accident, for instance, can result in a concussion due to the brain shifting within your head.

Alcohol is an intoxicating chemical substance that can directly impact your neurons when it crosses the barrier between your brain and blood. Alcohol prevents neurons from communicating with each other and alters how blood flows across your brain.

The after-effects of a concussion and alcohol consumption on the human body can, thus, manifest themselves in a similar manner.

Symptoms of a Concussion vs. Symptoms of Intoxication by Alcohol


Common symptoms of a concussion are:

  • Vomiting

  • Behavior, mood, or personality changes

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Difficulty in speaking or understanding what people are saying

  • Difficulty in walking or moving

  • Confusion

  • The appearance of being stunned or dazed

  • Seizures

  • Inability to recall events after or before a fall or hit

When you are drunk (BAC of over 0.08%), the compromised neuronal communication may result in a host of side effects, such as:

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Delayed reaction times or oral responses

  • Poor motor coordination

  • Memory loss or memory problems

  • Slurred speech

  • Poor decision making

Symptoms of a concussion and intoxication are similar in nature. Confusion, erratic behavior, and difficulty in thinking quickly are red flags for law enforcement officers.

Can Alcohol Lead to a Head Injury?


The effects of alcohol when you have indulged beyond the legal blood alcohol concentration level (BAC) of 0.08% can cause you to stumble, trip over something, lose your balance, or do something else that results in a head injury. When you are drunk and stumble down the sidewalk, you will likely lose your balance and fall on the sidewalk. Such a fall could cause lacerations to the face and a head injury.

If you fall off a bar stool because you have had too much to drink, you may hit your head on the floor and cause the bar stool to topple over and strike your head.


The Relation Between Alcohol and Concussions

Not all brain injuries or damages are concussions. A concussion is a type of brain injury that can occur when an external force impacts your skull and jars the brain. The affected brain tissue may bruise and result in inflammation. This inflammation results in a concussion that can significantly disrupt your brain cells.

Often, you may not have the presence of mind to seek medical treatment for a head injury right away. The alcohol dulls the senses, so you may not feel the pain of the injury at the time it happens. While many head injuries are minor and resolve within a few days or weeks, almost 20% of concussion patients report prolonged symptoms after a brain injury. Alcohol intoxication is the cause of almost 50% of all traumatic brain injuries.

Can a Concussion Cause You to Fail a Field Sobriety Test?


Under Maryland’s DUI law, if a police officer pulls you over in a DUI stop and suspects you’ve been drinking, they will typically ask you questions and conduct a series of standardized field sobriety tests.

Officers are instructed to do three field sobriety tests: horizontal gaze, walk and turn, and a one-leg stand.

Horizontal Gaze

The horizontal gaze test focuses on your concentration. In the horizontal gaze test, an officer will hold a flashlight in front of your eyes and instruct you to follow the object while they move it back and forth. The police officer looks for involuntary movements of your eyes, difficulty following the object, and dilated, red, or watery eyes.

Walk And Turn Test

In the walk and turn test, officers instruct you to walk heel to toe a certain number of steps, turn around, and walk back in the same manner. They test your balance, concentration, memory, and ability to follow instructions.

One-Leg Stand Test

The one-leg stand test evaluates your ability to stand on one leg and not use your arms for balance for a specific time. The one-leg stand test assesses your ability to maintain balance.

The symptoms of alcohol use and a concussion are very similar. Both conditions can result in difficulty concentrating, recalling information, balance problems, blurred vision, and delayed reactions. The effects of a concussion could inhibit your ability to complete these tests, as difficulty concentrating, lack of balance, and memory issues are common concussion side effects.

Potential Legal Defenses When a Head Injury Is Involved

If you have been charged with a DUI and believe that a head injury, such as a concussion, may have affected your field sobriety test results, several potential legal defenses can be used in your favor. Here are some common defenses:

  • Medical Documentation: Concrete evidence of a concussion or other head injury sustained around the time of the incident can serve as a solid defense. This should ideally come from a medical professional who treated you shortly after the incident.

  • Expert Testimony: A medical expert or neuropsychologist can testify on the effects of a concussion in relation to the symptoms of intoxication. They may be able to shed light on how a concussion could have influenced the outcomes of the sobriety tests.

  • Challenging Field Sobriety Test Results: Your attorney may challenge the accuracy and validity of the field sobriety test, particularly if the officer lacked proper training or did not administer the tests correctly.

A DUI Lawyer Can Help You Avoid the Consequences of a Washington D.C. DUI


DC DUI lawyer can gather evidence and develop a defense strategy for your DUI case based on proving your concussion was mistaken for being under the influence of an illegal substance.

dedicated DC DUI lawyer can help you explore your legal options and form a strong defense for your case if you are facing a DUI conviction. Contact Scrofano Law now to get started!


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