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Rare medical condition was to blame for woman's drunk driving

Over the years, DUI defendants here in Wisconsin have presented some pretty creative explanations for why the charges against them were erroneous. While some of these explanations are fictitious, others are true. And sometimes, the most outrageous sounding stories prove that truth can be stranger than fiction.

Consider the case of a woman from New York State, whose drunk driving charges were recently dismissed. When the woman was pulled over in late 2014, police found that she had a blood-alcohol concentration more than four times the legal limit. Although the BAC reading was correct, the woman wasn't to blame. It turns out that she suffers from a rare condition called auto-brewery syndrome, in which a person's digestive system ferments high-carbohydrate foods and turns them into alcohol.

According to the woman's attorney, she had consumed no more than three drinks in the six hours prior to getting pulled over. It would be nearly impossible to reach a BAC that high after consuming so little alcohol spaced out over that many hours. There needed to be another explanation.

Auto-brewery syndrome was first documented in the 1970s. And it was first documented in the United States just over two years ago. In addition to conferring with medical experts, the woman's defense attorney helped establish important evidence of the condition. He had his client monitored for a full day by three medical professionals who confirmed that she had not been drinking alcohol.

They took regular blood samples, and by the end of the day, the woman's BAC was up to 0.36 percent - higher than when she had been pulled over. The woman also blew into a personal breathalyzer device each night for nearly three weeks. She had an average BAC of about 0.20 percent.

While this case is incredibly interesting, it comes with some important caveats. First of all, most DUI defendants would have a very difficult time using auto-brewery syndrome as a viable defense. The condition is rare, and a diagnosis would need to be confirmed by medical professionals.

The other caveat is that the woman did not know she had the condition, nor did she feel at all impaired before being pulled over. Some people with auto-brewery syndrome feel drunk but may not understand why. If the woman had known she had a debilitating medical condition and had driven anyway, her legal fate may have been different.

If you have been charged with drunk driving, this story should serve as a reminder that you may not fully understand your rights and options until you speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney.

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