Florida residents may recall a strange drunk driving case from late 2015 that involved a New York woman who had a blood alcohol level of .40 percent even though she had not consumed any alcohol. The charges against the woman were dismissed after it was revealed that she suffered from a rare medical condition called auto-brewery syndrome.
The digestive systems of auto-brewery syndrome sufferers are not very efficient at dealing with yeast. When yeast accumulates in the stomach, it can convert carbohydrates from starchy foods like pasta or potatoes into ethanol through a process known as endogenous fermentation. This means that individuals who have the condition may exhibit all of the signs of intoxication including soaring blood alcohol levels despite not consuming a single drop.
Anti-fungal medications and a low carbohydrate diet are the most effective ways of treating the condition, but medical science currently offers no cure. In addition to being prone to intoxication-related accidents, auto-brewery syndrome sufferers risk methanol or alcohol poisoning if they consume heavy meals that are particularly rich in carbohydrates. This is in addition to the social stigma attached to habitual drunkenness.
Auto-brewery syndrome is one of a number of medical conditions that could lead police to believe that a driver who has not consumed any alcohol is intoxicated. Diabetics may seem incoherent and be unsteady on their feet when their blood levels drop rapidly, and even common allergies can make the eyes watery and bloodshot. Modern breath testing equipment is highly sophisticated, but it may still mistake stomach acid for alcohol in gastroesophageal reflux disease sufferers. Experienced criminal defense attorneys will likely be aware of how these and other medical conditions could lead to a drunk driving charge, and they may ask their DUI clients about their medical histories while preparing their defenses.