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Diluted Urine In A Drug Or Alcohol Test? Your Probation Could Be At Risk

What's a diluted urine sample and why does it matter? If you're on probation that requires you to submit to mandatory drug or alcohol urine tests, a diluted sample can spell big trouble and put you in violation of your parole. Here's what you need to know about diluted urine samples and probation violations.

How does a lab determine if urine is diluted?

When your urine is tested for the presence of drugs or alcohol, the concentration of the urine is tested. The lab doing the testing will measure the creatinine levels in the urine. Creatinine is a waste product that is naturally eliminated through your urine. At any given time, your urine should have a value between 20-350 milligrams per deciliter of fluid. Anything over 350 mg/dL is "thick" and usually a sign that you haven't been drinking enough fluids or your kidneys aren't functioning properly. Anything below 20mg/dL is considered "dilute" and means that you have more water in your urine than normal.

Here's a curious fact: less than 2% of the human population naturally produces a creatinine level under 20 mg/dL but around 8% of those who face court-ordered testing seem to produce urine with less than 20mg/dL of creatinine.

The reason for that is that some people on probation try to "game" the test results. They learn from their friends, relatives, or even websites, that by drinking a lot of water and sports drinks prior to testing, they'll dilute their urine and make it harder for the lab to detect the drugs or alcohol in their system. At the very least, the diluted urine makes the test results invalid.

Naturally, then, your probation officer's assumption is that you are one of those people who is trying to avoid getting caught violating your parole through the use of drugs and alcohol. 

How can you defend against a probation violation based on diluted urine?

Clearly, purposefully diluting your urine by drinking a lot of water is a bad idea, because your probation officer doesn't need a positive drug or alcohol test to actually violate you and send you back to jail. The mere fact that your urine came back as diluted is enough to do it.

But what if you're innocent? Can you defend yourself against a charge of violating the terms of your parole and overcome the negative assumption that you tried to cheat? Absolutely. The first thing that you want to do is talk with your attorney so that you can discuss why you might have had diluted urine when you gave the sample. There are a number of perfectly credible, honest reasons for diluted urine:

  • You'd been sick recently and were drinking a lot of fluids to combat dehydration.
  • You'd received fluids in the hospital recently for dehydration.
  • You'd been working out and had consumed a large quantity of sports drinks or water (or both) shortly before you were called to submit to a random urine test.
  • You actually are one of those rare humans who routinely produces less creatinine than others.

You are entitled to a hearing before a judge on any probation violation. Your attorney may want to arrange for a second urine test to be taken and measured so that it can be presented to the judge in order to show your (hopefully) normal creatinine levels. If your levels are still abnormally low, your attorney may want you to see a physician to try to determine what could be causing the low creatinine level (or if it is just normal for you).

Depending on the sophistication of the lab tests, it may be impossible to tell why (or with what) your urine was diluted. Your attorney may also be able to argue that there's no evidence that you did anything purposeful to cause the sample to be diluted. The test results themselves may even be in error. At the very least, if this is the first time you've had a diluted sample, your attorney may be able to convince the judge to give you the benefit of the doubt and allow you to submit another sample.

If you find out that your latest urine sample came back flagged for being diluted, don't wait until you are face to face with your probation officer to discuss the issue -- you may find a warrant waiting for you at the probation officer's office. Contact your criminal law attorney right away to see if he or she can help.