Imagine that you are pulled over on the side of the road, addressing a potential issue with your vehicle when a police officer pulls up behind you. Nothing strikes you as odd during the initial conversation with the officer until they ask if you’ve been drinking. Why no, you respond. You haven’t had anything alcoholic all day. Suspicious, though, the officer gives you a breath test. What happens next surprises you.
According to the breath test, you’re well over the legal limit. Before you know it, you’re being placed under arrest and are facing drunk driving charges. But how? You’re completely sober. Could the test have been wrong? If so, how do you prove this to the court and avoid a potentially damaging DUI?
Though this tale may seem stranger than fiction, a very real condition can actually cause this to occur. Called auto-brewery syndrome, the extremely rare condition causes carbohydrates in the intestine to ferment, releasing ethanol into a person’s system. If this happens on a daily basis, a person with this condition may build up a tolerance to alcohol, causing them to function relatively normally while others would be highly impaired.
Relatively unheard of by the larger medical community, a few cases have appeared in recent years, including one case out of New York where a woman had been facing serious DUI charges after the condition caused her BAC to rise to .33. The charges against her were recently dropped after a controlled study showed her BAC could rise without having ingested any alcohol.
Even though auto-brewery syndrome is rare, it still could be a possible explanation for a drunk driving incident. Without the help of a strong advocate, like a skilled defense lawyer, though, a defendant might have a difficult time proving this in court, as a judge might be more inclined to believe the more obvious answer: that the defendant had been drinking and driving, not that their body brewed its own beer.
Sources: NPR, “Auto-Brewery Syndrome: Apparently, You Can Make Beer In Your Gut,” Michaeleen Doucleff, Sept. 19, 2013
ABC News 13, “Drunk Driving Charges Dismissed Over Claim Woman’s Body Brews Alcohol,” Jan. 8, 2016