Is the Defendant Drunk or Concussed?

Courtesy of Godoy Medical Forensics


If a person who is charged with a DUI and has a concussion, a review of the medical records by an expert can determine if the defendant has either:

  1. Concussion symptoms that mimic intoxication: Officers often arrest for DUI based on perceived symptoms of intoxication when in fact the defendant may not have sufficient levels of the intoxicating substance, or no tests were done for intoxicating substances. In these cases, it is necessary to utilize an expert to correlate either concussion or intoxication with the symptoms.
  2. An inability to consent or refuse interrogation or testing by the police officer: A 2012 study by Triebel, et. al. reviewed the consent capacity of patients with traumatic brain injury. Their results indicated that even mild traumatic brain injury resulted in a reduction in ability to understand and appreciate the questions being asked, as well as a reduction in reasoning ability.

Concussion Overview

Concussion is a form of Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI) in which the brain is impacted sufficiently to result in neurological symptoms but not enough to cause any visible changes on radiology exams. A concussion can result from any impact to head, or any incident in which the brain is shifted within the skull. In motor vehicle accidents, the brain may impact the inside of the skull either as a result of an external impact, as with the windshield or steering wheel; OR a mechanism by which a sudden stop causes the brain to shift within the skull. Therefore, external impact is not necessary to result in a concussion. Likewise, a loss of consciousness is not necessary for a diagnosis of concussion.

Concussion Symptoms

A graph on the CDC website (also below) is a great tool to review the signs and symptoms of concussion. As you can see, the vast majority of these symptoms are also present in alcohol and drug intoxication. In addition, many of these symptoms may affect a person’s ability to understand questions they are being asked OR their ability to coherently answer questions. Symptoms of concussion usually fall into four categories:

Physical Emotional/
Difficulty thinking clearly Headache

Fuzzy or blurry vision

Irritability Sleeping more than usual
Feeling slowed down Nausea or vomiting
(early on)


Sadness Sleep less than usual
Difficulty concentrating Sensitivity to noise or light

Balance problems

More emotional Trouble falling asleep
Difficulty remembering new information Feeling tired, having no energy Nervousness or anxiety