There are certainly some creative ways to attempt getting out of a DUI charge, but this one takes the cake. One New York native is claiming that her body actually brews alcohol, and she’s using that as her defense against a DUI charge.
The strangest thing about this incident isn’t the woman’s claims, but the fact that her body really does brew alcohol. It’s a very rare condition known as auto-brewery syndrome in which the body converts ordinary food into alcohol, throwing the body far above the legal blood alcohol level. Let’s take a closer look at the story.
A Classic DUI Stop
One pair of New York policeman were on their usual rounds when they noticed a driver swerving and exhibiting signs of drunk driving. They flipped on their lights, and the driver, a woman who wishes to remain anonymous, pulled over to the shoulder where a DUI arrest was imminent. The woman had slurred speech and bloodshot eyes, and when several sobriety tests were administered, she failed each.
A breathalyzer test was finally administered, and she was arrested based on the fact that her blood alcohol level was four times higher than the legal limit. However, the woman claimed she hadn’t had more than a glass of wine several hours ago. For a normal human being, that small amount of alcohol and the time spent sobering up would have left her far below the legal limit.
A Rare Condition Discovered
Upon further investigation, it was discovered that she has a rare auto-brewery condition, also known as gut fermentation syndrome. When the defendant’s lawyer, Joseph Marusak, heard his client’s case, he knew something was up.
“I had never heard of auto-brewery syndrome before this case, but I knew something was amiss when the hospital police took the woman wanted to release her immediately because she wasn’t exhibiting any symptoms,” he told CNN. “ That prompts me to get on the Internet and see if there is any sort of explanation for a weird reading. Up pops auto-brewery syndrome and away we go.”
The woman’s situation seemed to be very similar to the cases he researched, so he got in contact with Dr. Anup Kanodia who diagnosed the woman with auto-brewery syndrome.
The test was administered when the woman was monitored in a room for several days, not drinking any alcohol. Throughout the process, medics monitored her very closely, taking several blood samples to keep an eye on her blood alcohol levels.
Marusak reported, “At the end of the day, she had a blood alcohol content of .36 without drinking any alcoholic beverages. She had no idea she had this condition. Never felt tipsy. Nothing.”
Following this experience, the woman bought her own breathalyzer and blew into it daily, registering a blood alcohol level of at least .20 every time. In New York, the legal alcohol limit is just .08. Following these tests, the woman’s DUI charge was dismissed.
A Closer Look at Auto-Brewery Syndrome
There are only a handful of people in the world with this condition, which is why it’s not widely recognized or understood. Barbara Cordell, the Dean of Nursing at Panola College, is one of the few scholars and doctors who have studied the syndrome in depth. She says she’s currently in contact with 30 others with this same condition in order to adequately monitor them for research.
“They can function at alcohol levels such as 0.30 and 0.40 when the average person would be comatose or dying,” she explains. “Part of the mystery of this syndrome is how they can have these extremely high levels and still be walking around and talking.”
A Rare Claim to Use in Court
Using this syndrome as a defense is extremely rare. The doctor who first examined the woman reported that there have only been two cases of auto-brewery syndrome used as a defense in DUI cases, one in Texas and one in Oregon. It’s rare to use this plea because without sound medical evidence, the case won’t stand.
“At first glance, it seems like a get-out-of-jail-free card,” said Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University. “But it’s not that easy. Courts tend to be skeptical of such claims. You have to be able to document the syndrome through recognized testing.”
In short, it’s rare to see this condition and even rarer that a defense attorney will try to use this condition without medical proof. It’s an interesting phenomenon, but not one we’ll likely hear often in future DUI cases.