Most driving under the influence (DUI) cases begin the same way. You’re pulled over by the police for a traffic infraction such as speeding, failing to maintain a single lane or for a license tag or tail light violation. The officer approaches your car and asks for your driver’s license, vehicle registration and insurance card.
The officer then notes you purportedly have bloodshot, watery eyes and the odor of an alcoholic beverage on your breath. But you haven’t had anything to drink, or if you did, it wasn’t enough to make you impaired.
You’re then asked to perform some roadside sobriety exercises. Feeling confident, you agree. Despite doing pretty well, however, the officer says you failed. You’re then handcuffed and taken to jail. At the jail you agree to take a breath test. To your surprise, your result is above the legal limit of 0.08. Case closed, right? Not so fast!
Some people suffer from a scarcely known and little publicized condition called auto-brewery syndrome. This relatively rare condition results in a person’s intoxication without them consuming alcohol. It arises when your body turns sugary and starchy foods (carbohydrates) into alcohol. Auto brewery syndrome can be difficult to diagnose. It may also be mistaken for other conditions.
Also known as gut-fermentation syndrome, this rare medical condition can occur when abnormal amounts of gastrointestinal yeast convert common food carbohydrates into ethanol, the same type of alcohol present in alcoholic beverages. The process is thought to occur in the small intestine, and is different from the normal gut fermentation which happens in the large intestine and provides energy to our bodies.
One of the first DUI cases involving auto-brewery syndrome occurred in upstate New York in the fall of 2014. In that case a woman consumed 4 drinks with her husband at a restaurant between noon and 6 p.m. While driving home from the restaurant the woman was stopped by police. She had a 0.40 breath alcohol level, five times the legal limit of 0.08.
An expert pharmacologist hired by the woman’s lawyer determined a woman of her size and weight having four drinks in that period of time should have had blood alcohol levels between 0.01 and 0.05. That would be beneath the legally impaired level of 0.08.
Curious as to just how the woman could have had such a high breath alcohol level despite not drinking, the lawyer then had the woman’s breath alcohol level measured throughout a normal day. To everyone’s astonishment, the woman’s breath alcohol level was double the legal limit at 9:15 a.m., triple the limit at 6 p.m. and more than four times the legal limit at 8:30 p.m., which correlates with the same time of day the police pulled her over.
Presented with the pharmacologist’s opinion that the woman’s expected breath alcohol level on the date of her arrest from the alcohol she consumed would have been less than 0.08 and with the evidence that her non-drinking breath alcohol levels were normally as much as four times the legal limit, the judge dismissed her DUI case. The dismissal was based on her breath alcohol level being a result of her medical condition and not caused by the alcoholic beverages she had consumed.
Auto-brewery syndrome or gut fermentation syndrome is a condition in which ethanol is produced through via fermentation by fungi or bacteria in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract in some people. Those with auto-brewery syndrome exhibit many of the signs and symptoms of alcohol intoxication while denying an intake of alcohol and often report a high-sugar, high-carbohydrate diet.
Generally, ethanol is produced in our bodies in minute quantities as part of normal digestion. However, when fermenting yeast or bacteria become pathogenic, extreme blood alcohol levels may result. Auto-brewery syndrome is more prevalent in people with diabetes, obesity, and Crohn disease, but it can occur in otherwise healthy individuals. It can also occur after taking certain antibiotics. While auto-brewery syndrome is rarely diagnosed, the consensus is it is probably underdiagnosed.
If you’ve been arrested for DUI and you hadn’t been drinking or you weren’t drinking enough to be impaired, you may have grounds to challenge your charges. Depending on your particular medical circumstances, your body may itself have produced the ethanol that caused you to present as though you were impaired by excessive drinking. In that event, the State may be forced to drop or dismiss your case, or to substantially reduce your charges.
If you think a medical condition may have resulted in your DUI arrest, it’s very important you contact a Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer experienced with how various medical conditions can lead to unfounded DUI charges. Call me for a free consultation to discuss how I can give you the best chance of avoiding a DUI conviction Duval, Clay, Nassau, Baker or St. Johns Counties.