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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Sick Cat Emergency No Defense in Tampa DUI Case

It has taken three years for a decision, but a three judge panel at a 2nd District Court of Appeal has now decided that the defense put forward by a driver stopped for speeding was insufficient to prevent him from being charged for DUI.

The case has attracted international media attention because of the unusual situation in which Christopher Brooks was arrested. He was apparently stopped for driving at 83 mph by police officers in the city of Tampa and was subsequently arrested for DUI. He claimed that he was taking a friend’s sick cat to a nearby vet’s clinic. He also said that he acknowledged that he had been drinking, and was going too fast, but thought that he was legally within his rights to do so.

Florida law allows a certain amount of leeway when it comes to breaking normal traffic laws when driving if the objective of the driver is to take a sick or injured person for treatment under emergency conditions.

The question in this case was whether taking a sick feline to the vet could be considered a ‘defense of necessity’ as the relevant clause is referred to.

There appeared to be no doubt that Mr. Brook’s story was genuine. The cat was definitely sick and in fact died during the enforced wait at the roadside. Mr. Brooks was also accompanied by two human passengers, one of whom was the owner of the cat. The owner pleaded with police to allow them to proceed to the vet, who was apparently very close to where the car was pulled over.

One of the reasons the case has taken so long to come to a final decision is that it has been appealed under the ‘defense of necessity’ clause. However, it appears that the final judgment from the panel ruled that the clause could only apply to humans and not to cats or any other domestic pets. Mr. Brooks was not only allegedly DUI at the time he was driving, but it was the third time he had been arrested for DUI in 10 years. Sentencing had not been decided by the time this blog had been written.

DUI is taken very seriously indeed in Florida and a third offense can mean harsh penalties for anyone who is convicted. The penalties are even greater if the three offenses have been committed within ten years and can be considered a felony, rather than just a misdemeanor. The penalties for Mr. Brooks could include a mandatory jail term of up to 5 years, a large fine, 5 years probation and permanent forfeiture of his license.

Every DUI arrest has unique considerations, although it is unlikely that anyone else in Tampa will now contemplate driving a pet to a vet after a drink and at speed. If you have been arrested for DUI, you should not think that you are automatically guilty. You should make sure you get an aggressive and experienced Tampa DUI lawyer to help you defend your constitutional rights.

A good DUI lawyer will be able to examine every detail of your arrest carefully and look for errors and contradictions in the way the arrest or the alcohol testing was carried out. There are many ways in which a defense may be successful. Police officers must be able to justify the reason why they stopped you in the first place. They must also be able to provide convincing evidence of correct protocol in the field sobriety tests and questioning techniques they used at the road side. The chemical test for alcohol, if one was used, must be proven to have been carried out under exacting conditions.