Law Enforcement Resources for Lawyers

Civil Rights of People with Diabetes

Every year, the Association receives numerous requests for assistance from individuals who allege unfair treatment by police officers or prison or jail officials because of their diabetes. These include:

  • Inappropriate use of force when an individual is experiencing a diabetes emergency
  • Inadequate diabetes care during custody prior to trial
  • Inadequate diabetes care while serving sentence

In response, we have created and collected several resources to help lawyers advocate for clients in these situations. In addition, we may be able to provide background assistance to attorneys working on these cases. We may be able to help locate medical experts in select cases. For more information, please see our attorney materials page or write to us at AskAda@diabetes.org

For general information on diabetes and law enforcement, please see our Know Your Rights resource page. 

Public Defenders and Defense Attorneys

Sometimes individuals experiencing a diabetes emergency — particularly severe low blood glucose (hypoglycemia)—may be charged with criminal conduct. Diabetes is not an excuse for criminal conduct, but sometimes complicated situations arise. For example, an individual might be charged with theft, but, when arrested, be experiencing hypoglycemia. Or, a person arrested for an unrelated crime might be getting inadequate medical care while awaiting trial. One common question that arises is whether low blood glucose can cause a false positive for alcohol in Breathalyzer tests. Older generations of Breathalyzers did occasionally create false positives for people with type 1 diabetes experiencing extreme high blood glucose levels (or hyperglycemia). However, there is little evidence that hypoglycemia can ever cause a false positive for alcohol. The Association’s staff attorneys are happy to provide you with information about diabetes.

You Can Make a Difference

If you would like to help people who have experienced mistreatment by law enforcement officials, we invite you to join our Advocacy Attorney Network. When we receive requests for assistance from people who have been mistreated, our attorneys step in to fight for justice. You may participate on a pro bono basis or as part of your normal legal practice and there is no cost to join.  Sometimes federal litigation may be necessary, but sometimes just writing a letter to a prison can result in a nearly immediate improvement in care for an inmate with diabetes. You can decide how you would like to help, and our staff attorneys are always available to consult with you. 

Attorney Materials

Inappropriate Law Enforcement Response to Individuals with Diabetes: An Introduction and Guide for Attorneys (Sarah Fech, JD; Gregory Murray, JD) (September 2014)

This document discusses possible legal claims related to inappropriate law enforcement responses to individuals with diabetes, from initial arrest to short-term detention, including claims under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Statement of Alan L. Yatvin to Senate Committee on the Judiciary  (April 2014)
Read our statement to Congress regarding the need for adequate police training. This was submitted as part of a hearing entitled Law Enforcement Responses to Disabled Americans: Promising Approaches for Protecting Public Safety

The American Diabetes Association's Position Statement on Diabetes Management in Correctional Institutions (PDF) (Diabetes Care, Volume 3, Supplement 1, January 2012 ).
The Association's official position statement outlines what constitutes adequate medical care for inmates in prisons and jails.

Claims Related to Medical Care for Prisoners with Diabetes (PDF)
(Victoria Thomas, JD) (November 2012)
This document discusses possible legal claims related to the inadequate medical treatment provided to inmates with diabetes in correctional facilities, including claims under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments and the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Rosen v. City of Philadelphia
This class action lawsuit remains a model for addressing the mistreatment of people with diabetes in police custody who became seriously ill when they were denied needed food and medication. The approved settlement agreement sets out model procedures to ensure people with diabetes maintain access to food, medication, and medical personnel while they are in police custody. The agreement also established a means to train police personnel about the medical needs of people with diabetes.

  • Last Reviewed: February 27, 2017
  • Last Edited: February 27, 2017

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