Texas Man Gets Drunk Without Drinking

DUI lawyers often report that some people are arrested who have not been drinking, but who blow positive in a breath test. The reasons vary from person to person, with some having odd medical conditions and others having taken medication which simulates alcohol.

A man in Texas was reported recently being “drunk” on a regular basis, even though he hadn’t been drinking. He didn’t get caught for DUI but his wife was so concerned that she actually went out and bought a breathalyzer, worried that he would “drink” and drive. According to his wife he would regularly show symptoms of being drunk after going to church on Sunday, or “at any time”.

The condition that the man was suffering from was revealed eventually when he felt so ill that he went to the hospital, complaining of dizziness. Doctors at first thought that he was a secret alcoholic as he tested five times the legal limit for alcohol (0.08% in Texas and here in Florida) despite claiming he hadn’t been drinking.

It took a more detailed look at what was happening before a rare condition was diagnosed. It appeared that the man had a surplus of brewer’s yeast (Saccharomyces) in his stomach. The yeast was naturally fermenting any sugars or other carbohydrates that were accumulating in that part of his digestive system. The alcohol produced by this unseen fermentation was giving the man the symptoms of drunkenness that he and his wife had been noticing.

According to a report in the International Journal of Clinical Medicine, the condition is known as auto-brewery syndrome or Saccharomyces cerevisiae. It doesn’t happen very often, simply because the particular strain of yeast which ferments any surplus carbohydrate is not normally present in the gut.

One of the reasons that many DUI lawyers are cautious about DUI arrests is that breathalyzers and other chemical tests do not necessarily only test positive for the alcohol in alcoholic drinks. In fact, they can respond to a small number of other chemical substances that trigger similar results in the machine, despite not making someone drunk. In some medical conditions, substances called ketones are released by the body and can be found in the breath.  Ketones can be mistaken for alcohol by the breathalyzer machine and someone can be arrested for DUI despite them not having had a drink.

In other cases of testing error, solvents used in certain medications may have a certain amount of alcohol in them and if taken orally not long before the person is stopped by police, may indicate they have a “blood alcohol” content which is over the limit. Another source of error can come from sanitary wipes which are routinely used in cleaning equipment, including the equipment used in testing for alcohol content. These wipes have a small amount of ethanol – the same alcohol in alcoholic drinks – and if used too liberally can mean that a test result is inaccurate.

Stories like the auto-brewery syndrome in Texas may make for humorous reading, but for those few people who have been arrested for DUI because of a false alcohol test, the situation is serious. DUI penalties are severe here in Florida and it takes a knowledgeable and tenacious DUI lawyer to unravel what has gone wrong when someone is wrongly arrested. 

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How trustworthy are the Intoxilyzer results in Florida?

An Intoxilyzer is a device used by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to test for blood alcohol content (BAC) for anybody who has been arrested for being drunk while driving (DUI). The Intoxilyzer 8000 is the most common breathalyzer used in Florida as well as many other parts of the United States. It is not the only device used to test for BAC, however, as there is also a blood test. If you have been arrested for DUI in Tampa and have been asked to have a blood alcohol test, then you can choose to take a blood test or a breath test.

The Intoxilyzer 8000 has been a controversial device in most states. In some states, it is no longer used because of its potential inaccuracies. It is quite possible that many people have been convicted of DUI because of false readings obtained by the Intoxilyzer 8000. If you have blown into a breathalyzer in Florida and the police have convicted you because your BAC reading was above 0.08, the legal blood alcohol limit, then your DUI attorney may be able to contest the charge, due to potential inaccuracies.

There are a number of concerns with the Intoxilyzer 8000 which makes it far from foolproof as a device for measuring blood alcohol levels.

These concerns can be summarized as:

  • inadequate level of training used by the operator
  • the procedure for use not being followed correctly
  • interference by radio controlled devices in the vicinity
  • inadequate cleanliness of the device
  • calibration of the device being faulty
  • defective Intoxilyzers being used and not remedied sufficiently
  • pre existing health condition of the accused interfering with results
  • medications used by the accused interfering with the results.

The Intoxilyzer 8000 has had more than its fair share of criticisms and the FDLE has been attempting to address some of the complaints by an examination of its existing machines. All Intoxilyzers are supposed to be notified to the United States Federal Department of Transport (USDOT) for conformity before being used, or after any modification. The manufacturer of the Intoxilyzer 8000, CMI, has apparently had to modify the device over 17 times since the original release date in 2002, but 16 of these 17 modifications have not been verified for conformity and therefore could still be potentially defective. Not every jurisdiction in Florida is therefore necessarily using devices that have been verified for conformity for existing inaccuracies.

The situation has been complicated by the fact that the use of results from the Intoxilyzer 8000 may not be valid in some individual counties within Florida. In November 2012, for instance, Judge Carr of Collier County declared that he would not allow the use of results from the device to be used in evidence in his court, because it was not sufficiently accurate and could allow an innocent person to be convicted. He did so after an examination of the information relating to the lack of conformity that the machines had received from the USDOT since manufacture.

If you are arrested for DUI, you will need to consent to taking a blood alcohol test at the police station or face possible criminal charges under Florida’s implied consent rules. You should do this even if you refused a field sobriety test or roadside breath test when asked to do so by a police officer when they stopped your car. However, if you have had a breath test and it has shown a reading of greater than 0.08 your BAC reading can be challenged with the help of an experienced DUI attorney in Tampa.