Crime News

New Yorker Beats DUI Charge With Auto-Brewery Syndrome Defense

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A woman in upstate New York, whose identity was not released, was pulled over by police while driving back to her house after she’d had some drinks with her husband while out at a restaurant. Instead of whisking her off to the drunk tank or jail, the cops took her to the hospital because her blood alcohol level indicated that her life was possibly in danger.

Having blown a blood alcohol level of 0.40, a level that CNN reports to be extremely life-threatening, the law enforcement officers transported her to a local hospital that eventually recommended that she be released after she failed to exhibit any symptoms of intoxication. However, her husband decided to instead request that the hospital run some tests. Many hours after she’d consumed her last drink, of which her lawyer claims that she’d had “four” over the course of six hours, her blood alcohol level was still reading 0.30, which is well over the legal limit in the state of New York.

In the state of New York, a driving while intoxicated (DWI) conviction requires a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher. Typical punishments for first time DWI offenses include the revocation of driving privileges, fines ranging from $500 to $1,000, and in some cases a jail term of up to one year can be imposed by the courts. These penalties increase substantially on the second and third offenses. Due to New York’s implied consent law, people who refuse to submit to a chemical test are automatically assumed guilty, facing fines and the suspension of their driver’s license.

As a result of her unusually high BAC level hours after her alleged consumption of less than a handful of drinks that were coupled with food and spaced out over the course of six hours, her lawyer, Joseph Marusak, decided to hire a couple of physician assistants as well as an individual trained in administering breathalyzers. The team continued to monitor her blood alcohol level over the course of 12 hours and found that after having consumed no additional alcohol, “her blood 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 pm., which correlates with the same time of day that” she was pulled over by the police, Marusak told CNN.

I hired two physician assistants and a person trained in Breathalyzers to watch her and take blood alcohol levels over a 12-hour period and had it run at the same lab used by the prosecution (…) Without any drinks, her blood 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 that the police pulled her over.

Stranger still was the fact that until she reached dangerous levels of alcohol in her system, between 0.30 and 0.40, she didn’t exhibit any signs of intoxication. But once she reached such levels, she began to “feel a bit wobbly on her feet,” according to her lawyer who explained that his client suffers from an extremely rare condition known as auto-brewery syndrome — a condition in which the bodies of those afflicted convert carbohydrates from food into ethanol.

Those afflicted with the rare medical condition, which is believed to occur within the body’s small bowel, are able to function with blood alcohol levels that would leave most humans dying or comatose, according to Barbara Cordell.

While Cordell, the Dean of Nursing and Health Sciences at Panola College in Texas, has been studying the rare condition–also known as gut-fermentation syndrome–for years, she has yet to determine exactly how those afflicted can walk around and talk while their blood alcohol levels are so high.

I’m in touch with about 30 people who believe they have this same syndrome, about 10 of them are diagnosed with it (…) They can function at alcohol levels such as 0.30 and 0.40 when the average person would be comatose or dying. Part of the mystery of this syndrome is how they can have these extremely high levels and still be walking around and talking.

In light of the evidence provided by the additional tests, the presiding judge has dismissed the case against the woman, however, according to her lawyer, the district attorney’s office has indicated that they plan to appeal the ruling.

I’ve heard the DA’s office says they plan to appeal. I’ll know more by the middle of January.

The Buffalo News reports that the woman spent $7,000 on the specialists who helped show that her body could produce alcohol without consuming alcoholic beverages.

As for whether or not she should have been driving in the first place, auto-brewery syndrome expert Dr. Anup Kanodia told U.S. News & World Report that “it is not safe to drive a car if you are in an auto brewery syndrome flare,” but it’s a new disease and researchers are still struggling to wrap their heads around it.

What do you think of the judge’s decision to dismiss the DWI case in light of the woman’s rare medical condition that causes her body to produce its own alcohol?

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