Breathalyzer devices are not very complicated or very smart.
In fact, breathalyzer devices detect in the breath any compound – not just alcohol – that contains the methyl group in its molecular structure.
The general assumption is that if you blow into a breathalyzer device and register a 0.08 percent or higher blood alcohol content (BAC) level, you’ve been drinking and you are too intoxicated to drive, but the general assumption is sometimes wrong. If you suffer from gut fermentation syndrome or from Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), or even if you smoke cigarettes, you could be wrongly accused of and charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI) or driving under the influence (DUI).
Driving while intoxicated charges against a 35-year-old school teacher in New York were dismissed in December because her defense attorney was able to prove that she suffers from gut fermentation syndrome.
That essentially means that her body functions as a brewery. More precisely, the woman is the victim of a rare medical condition also known as “auto-brewery syndrome,” which was first identified by Japanese medical researchers in the 1970s.
The first U.S. case was identified only in 2013. Legal and medical experts in the United States are saying that gut fermentation syndrome is being used more frequently as a legal defense in DUI cases as it becomes more well-known.
MEDICAL CONDITIONS, FOODS, AND DRUGS
The woman was arrested in October in the Buffalo, New York suburb of Hamburg while driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) level more than four times the legal limit.
She only then learned that she has the rare condition. Gut fermentation syndrome causes the digestive system to convert ordinary food into alcohol – or to be precise, high levels of yeast in the intestines ferment high-carbohydrate foods into alcohol.
The New York woman isn’t the only person who’s been wrongfully charged and arrested for driving while intoxicated because of a medical problem. A number of medical conditions, foods, and drugs can raise a person’s blood alcohol content level, and some people can at times be “over the legal limit” without a drop of alcohol.
If you believe that you have been wrongly arrested and charged with driving under the influence, contact a good DUI lawyer at once, and in southern California, speak with an experienced Orange County DUI defense attorney.
Gut fermentation syndrome was first identified in the United States by Dr. Barbara Cordell of Panola College in Carthage, Texas, who published a case study in 2013 in the International Journal of Clinical Medicine.
Dr. Cordell investigated the case of a 61-year-old Texas man who had been experiencing episodes of debilitating drunkenness without drinking. The man first came to Dr. Cordell’s attention after his wife rushed him to the hospital in 2008 and again in 2010 with BAC levels three to four times above the legal limit.
“As a nurse, I’m a scientist and a patient advocate, so most of all, I wanted to get to the bottom of the story,” Dr. Cordell told the Longview News-Journal.
Back in New York in 2015, the attorney for the unnamed woman in the Hamburg case contacted Dr. Cordell, who referred him to Dr. Anup Kanodia of Columbus, Ohio.
Dr. Kanodia diagnosed the woman with gut fermentation syndrome and recommended a low-carbohydrate diet that brought her medical condition under control. The woman is currently free to drive without legal restrictions.
“Courts tend to be skeptical of such claims,” according to George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley.
“You have to be able to document the syndrome through recognized testing.” Turley added that gut fermentation syndrome was only a valid defense in the New York case because the woman was unaware that she had it.
Turley said that courts have long held that people who know they have a medical condition that impairs their ability to drive can be found liable for failing to take reasonable measures in light of that knowledge.
SYMPTOMS AND TREATMENTS
Gut fermentation syndrome can have a profound impact on the everyday lives of its victims.
The recurring side effects of dizziness, dry mouth, hangovers, disorientation, irritable bowel syndrome, and chronic fatigue syndrome can lead to additional health problems such as depression, anxiety, and poor productivity in the workplace.
The random intoxication can also lead to personal, employment, and even marital difficulties, and the relative obscurity of the condition can also make it difficult to seek and obtain treatment.
No one is precisely certain how gut fermentation syndrome is acquired or triggered or how the quantities of yeast sufficient to convert foods like potatoes and bread into alcohol emerge and proliferate in someone’s intestines.
While there is no cure, the antifungal drug fluconazole has been an effective treatment for gut fermentation syndrome, and a low-carbohydrate diet is recommended.
Dr. Kanodia, the Ohio doctor, said two more DUI cases where gut fermentation syndrome is being used as a defense are currently being tried in Texas and in Oregon.
GASTROESOPHAGEAL REFLUX DISEASE (GERD)
Gut fermentation syndrome isn’t the only condition that can raise your BAC level and result in a wrongful DUI accusation.
Some drivers who suffer from Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) have been wrongfully convicted of DUI in the past. If you suffer from GERD, your breath test results will always be wrong, and if you routinely use a medication like Tums, Rolaids, Prilosec, Maalox, or Pepto-Bismol – or a prescription drug like Nexium – you may be masking the symptoms of GERD and suffering from the condition without realizing it.
As mentioned previously, breathalyzers are not advanced, hi-tech devices. In fact, there’s been almost no advance in breathalyzer technology since the device was invented in the early 1950s.
Merely breathing gasoline or paint fumes can create inaccurate breath test results. Diabetics and persons suffering with hypoglycemia often have high levels of acetone in their breath, and breathalyzers cannot tell the difference between acetone and alcohol.
Fasting, extreme dieting, and several kinds of foods can also significantly elevate acetone in the breath. Breathalyzers also cannot tell the difference between alcohol and acetaldehyde, which is found in coffee, bread, and ripe fruit.
Acetaldehyde is also found in the lungs of cigarette smokers, who are far more likely than non-smokers to register inaccurate high readings on a breathalyzer test.
Researchers who published their findings in the British Medical Journal in 1991 analyzed blood samples from a group of smokers for BAC levels both after smoking and also after a lengthy period of abstinence. The result was that “the peak blood alcohol concentrations were significantly less during the smoking period compared with the non-smoking period.”
The scientists concluded that the effect of smoking on alcohol absorption has “considerable social and medicolegal relevance” and that the use of tobacco should be a consideration when measuring BAC levels.
WHAT BREATHALYZERS DON’T DETECT
Breathalyzers test alveolar air, the air from the deepest part of the lungs, and a breathalyzer presumes that when you blow into it, the air is directly from your lungs.
If you have GERD, alcohol gas is constantly moving from the stomach to the throat and mouth, and when you blow into a breathalyzer device, gases in the stomach, lungs, throat, and mouth all combine for a much higher BAC reading. Breathalyzer devices do not detect GERD, gut fermentation syndrome, or any other medical condition.
If you routinely take any heartburn or indigestion medication and you’re accused of DUI, immediately contact an experienced DUI lawyer, and in southern California, an experienced Orange County DUI defense attorney.
In 2013, the California Supreme Court, in the case of Vangelder vs. California, ruled that DUI defense attorneys cannot use testimony from experts who have found that breathalyzers are generally unreliable.
However, a DUI defense lawyer may still allege that a particular breathalyzer device was defective or that the test was administered improperly. That’s one reason why, if you’re accused of DUI in California, it’s imperative to obtain the help of an experienced Orange County DUI defense attorney immediately.
LEGAL HELP IS HERE
An experienced DUI defense attorney will thoroughly examine the charges against you, interrogate eyewitnesses, and gather the evidence for your defense.
If your case goes to trial, a good DUI defense lawyer will cross-examine the arresting officers to find any discrepancies in the testimony, any inconsistency in the DUI tests, and any other factors which may bolster your defense.
If you are wrongly charged with DUI and you suspect that you suffer from GERD or gut fermentation syndrome, your DUI attorney can review your medical records, and if necessary, arrange for a medical diagnosis.
Of course, you do not necessarily have to smoke cigarettes, suffer from a medical condition, or adhere to a radical diet in order to be falsely accused of driving under the influence. The electronics in a breathalyzer device can be distorted just by simple radio frequency interference (RFI).
If you’re charged with DUI, you’ll need the legal advice and services of a good DUI lawyer, and in southern California, an experienced Orange County DUI defense attorney A good DUI defense lawyer will safeguard your rights, examine the details of your case, outline your legal options, and guide you through the entire legal process. If you’ve been charged with driving under the influence – whether you believe you are innocent or guilty – get the legal help you need and make the call immediately.