A Pennsylvania driver huffed difluoroethane, or DFE, while driving and killed another driver in a subsequent collision. Based on her past of losing consciousness after huffing DFE, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded this summer that her conduct constituted malice sufficient to support her convictions of third-degree murder and aggravated assault. The state high court therefore affirmed the superior court’s decision in this Pennsylvania DUI case.
Huffing while driving is more common than one might expect; it is an issue that often finds its way into the courts. Just this month, for example, the Minnesota Supreme Court reversed the impaired driving convictions of a woman who was found limp in her car three separate times after allegedly huffing DFE. One Minnesota Supreme Court Justice dissented; she argued the law lists hazardous chemical characteristics, and DFE falls under that category even though it’s not mentioned by name.
DFE is a colorless gas commonly used as a refrigerant or as a propellant for aerosol sprays and in gas duster products. DFE is defined as an inhalant, which also includes chemicals found in products like aerosol sprays, glue, cleaning fluids, paint thinner, nail polish remover, and lighter fuel. When these substances are inhaled through the nose or mouth, they can cause permanent physical and mental damage. They deprive the body of oxygen and force the heart to beat rapidly and irregularly. People using inhalants can suffer nausea and nosebleeds, lose their sense of smell, or develop liver, kidney, and lung problems. Prolonged use can cause reduced muscle mass, tone, and strength. Inhalants can make people unable to move, walk, talk, and think normally. When the toxic fumes are sniffed straight into the sinuses, much of the damage is caused to the brain tissue. In addition to the above, inhalants can kill a person by heart attack or suffocation as the inhaled fumes take the place of oxygen in the lungs and central nervous system. A person who has huffed inhalants might also suddenly react with unexpected and extreme violence.