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Medicine The Courts

DUI Charges Dismissed Against Woman Whose Body Brews Alcohol (cnn.com) 259

HughPickens.com writes: CNN reports that a judge dismissed DUI charges against a woman in upstate New York after being presented with evidence the woman suffers from "auto-brewery syndrome" even though she blew a blood alcohol level more than four times the legal limit. "I had never heard of auto-brewery syndrome before this case," says attorney Joseph Marusak. "But I knew something was amiss when the hospital police took the woman to wanted to release her immediately because she wasn't exhibiting any symptoms." Also known as gut-fermentation syndrome, this rare medical condition can occur when abnormal amounts of gastrointestinal yeast convert common food carbohydrates into ethanol. The process is believed to take place in the small bowel, and is vastly different from the normal gut fermentation in the large bowel that gives our bodies energy.
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DUI Charges Dismissed Against Woman Whose Body Brews Alcohol

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  • Doesn't matter. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    If she has a condition that gives her a DUI, she shouldn't be driving, ever. Sucks for her but too bad.

    • Re:Doesn't matter. (Score:5, Informative)

      by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Sunday January 03, 2016 @03:27AM (#51229501)
      True, but not. Drunk driving requires some mens rea. The standard for mens rea is pretty low at this point. She had no knowledge of her condition prior to he DUI, and the DUI made her aware of it. From now on, she should be medically banned from driving, until cured. But at the time, not knowing she had any risk of being drunk, she didn't have a drink and then drive. She didn't knowingly drive drunk. She didn't satisfy the criminal requirements for a crime. She took no action that she could have known would have resulted in a breach of law.

      First time for someone they didn't know had it, she shouldn't be prosecuted, but should lose her license. And if she doesn't lose her license, the next time she drives she's taking a deliberate act she knows is in breach of the law, so it will be a DUI.
      • by v1x ( 528604 )
        It depends. In Colorado, for example, DUI/DWAI are clearly strict liability offenses [coloradosp...erblog.com], which do not require mens rea. A court in New York previously concluded that DWI is a strict liability offense [findlaw.com], and does not contain the element of mens rea.
        • Re:Doesn't matter. (Score:5, Informative)

          by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Sunday January 03, 2016 @06:04AM (#51229751)
          Still requires a voluntary act. That's the current mens rea standard. Almost nothing requires mens rea as originally applied. She took no voluntary act. There was an involuntary act from within her digestive system, but no voluntary act on her part that resulted in a breach of law. You don't have to intend to drive drunk. You just have to drink to satisfy the current mens rea. That is the guilty act, drinking.

          It's more explicitly repealed for drunk driving because you can't argue that you were too drunk to realize you were driving drunk. That argument, with strict mens rea should be conviction proof, so mens rea is officially repealed for that offense, though it isn't applied to any offense these days. You only need the intended act that results in the offense, not the intention to commit the offense.

          Take a person who fires a gun in the air for new years. The bullet comes down and kills someone. They would likely be charged with a homicide of some degree. The fact that the act was intended to be harmeless is irrelevant. mens rea doesn't apply to anything anymore. The shooter intended to fire the weapon, and that's sufficient for homicide.
          • We had a case like that in the 1980s. My dad was tge investigating officer. That bullet killed a 2 year old in her crib. The shooter got 20 years for aggravated manslaughter.

            Granted we have a different legal system. Under the law here all homocide requires an intent to kill. Manslaughter is defined as causing a death where a reasonable person would not. Basically its the criminal version of wrongfull death.
            The judge ruled (correctly) that a reasonable person would forsee that firing a gun into the air in an

          • Take a person who fires a gun in the air for new years. The bullet comes down and kills someone. They would likely be charged with a homicide of some degree. The fact that the act was intended to be harmeless is irrelevant. mens rea doesn't apply to anything anymore. The shooter intended to fire the weapon, and that's sufficient for homicide.

            That's knowingly doing something dangerous though. The fact that he got lucky before then has no bearing. Sure he wasn't doing something to intentionally kill people (s

            • If he didn't realise it was dangerous, then he should probably be detained under mental health laws since he's a danger to others (and himself).

              Or at minimum forbidden to own or operate a firearm. Sometimes it seems like what is really needed in gun control is to prove a basic knowledge of Newtonian physics (no math, just the basic facts will do) because people don't seem to understand how bullets behave.

            • Yes, that falls under the "dumb ass" classification.

              I admin - I've shot a gun or three for new years and fourth of july. Straight down into the ground or other safe back stop.

              Heck, even dumped a full 100 round belt thru a full auto 1919 a buddy owns - again, directly into a safe backstop.

              There is "fun" and "exciting" and there is also "being a dumb ass". First 2 are OK, 3rd isn't.

              • Yes, that falls under the "dumb ass" classification.

                I admin - I've shot a gun or three for new years and fourth of july. Straight down into the ground or other safe back stop.

                You must live on a sand dune, because most of the places I've lived, there are numerous large rocks in the ground than can easily redirect a bullet into an arbitrary direction, some of which include an upward vector. If you live anywhere the glaciers extended during the ice age, there's a good chance that there are just as many large rocks and boulders in the ground as there is soil. "Safe" and "dumb ass" are matters of interpretation. It may be you were less of one and more of the other than you thought

                • I have a large earth berm that went part way around an above ground pool. In the totally wrong spot to actually set up a range with decent distance (25 yards minimum) but composed of mostly Florida dirt and potting soil. No rocks, etc. Perfectly safe to catch a couple of 22 rounds.

                  The machine guns were shot at a real range, with proper berms almost 50' tall.

            • by mysidia ( 191772 )

              Sure he wasn't doing something to intentionally kill people (so it wouldn't be first degree murder) but he was intentionally doing something dangerous.

              He was deliberately doing something illegal that can kill people, operating a device that is extremely well-known to have this danger. I am not too sure that the person who was killed cares what degree murder it was.

              IMO, in such extreme circumstances where someone so suddenly causes the death of an innocent person, without voluntary participation of t

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Hognoxious ( 631665 )

            Still requires a voluntary act.

            Getting behind the wheel is a voluntary act. If you'd bothered to read the link he provided you'd know that.

          • by mysidia ( 191772 )

            Take a person who fires a gun in the air for new years. The bullet comes down and kills someone.

            Unless the offender is a child or already found mentally incompetent, they are likely to be held to the standard that any reasonable person will be aware that the output of a deadly weapon is a substantial and unjustifiable risk of danger to life and limb.

            The act of firing the gun into the air is itself a criminal infraction, and committing any crime when acting with intentional disregard while handling a de

        • Re:Doesn't matter. (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Damouze ( 766305 ) on Sunday January 03, 2016 @07:49AM (#51229873)

          Strict liability offenses are an affront to justice and should be done away sooner rather than later.

          This woman should not take the blame for a medical condition that she did not know about. Getting a flat tire is not necessarily the same as getting in an accident. And even if she had caused an accident, she cannot be blamed for it by her blood alcohol levels alone, because apparently she was functioning normally even when the breathalizer tests showed she had a blood alcohol level of between 0.3 and 0.4.

          If I were a defense attorney I would go to great lengths to show that the premise of the correlation between the amount of alcohol in someone's breath and his/her actual blood alcohol level is false in his/her case. That can be easily proven by taking an actual blood test. If that test shows that the actual promillage of alcohol in her blood is much lower than would be expected from the breathalizer test alone, the breathalizer test is a false positive and an any arguments following from that breathalizer test are by definition false as well.

          Should this woman be driving? That is not for me, you or any judge to decide. Only a medical professional can advise this woman on that matter. It is up to her to decide what she does with that advice.

          • by Anonymous Coward

            Thank you. Strict liability is an absolute abomination and should be abolished. There are some powers legislatures should not have (I would argue based on our Constitution that they DO not have them, but our courts are too statist to rely on for actual justice).

            One of those things legislatures should not be allowed to do is presume something just because they say so. Blood alcohol levels as presumption of impairment is just the start. If you can't drive properly I'm really not interested in WHY you can'

          • This woman should not take the blame for a medical condition that she did not know about.

            On the other hand, in the age of government-subsidized health care, the government might argue that she "reasonably should have known" about it since her annual physical. Perhaps this case might be the excuse to pass a law requiring blood alcohol screening in the standard set of annual tests that insurers in the state must cover.

          • Not only that, the human body is extremely adaptable. It's likely she would behave quite erratically if she DIDN'T have the "normal" BAC that she had.

            Even saying this woman shouldn't be able to drive is stretching it. It is presumed that she had this condition when she was first learning to drive, and when she took her drivers road test. From the way it sounds THIS is her baseline for sobriety, and if she can ( and seemingly HAS ) proved that she is capable of properly operating a vehicle at her baseline

          • Should this woman be driving? That is not for me, you or any judge to decide. Only a medical professional can advise this woman on that matter. It is up to her to decide what she does with that advice.

            I was with you until that last sentence. it is not solely up to her whether she should be allowed to drive (on public roads, anyway). Driving on public roads is not a right.

            • by Damouze ( 766305 )

              I can understand why you would say that. However, punishing her for having a medical condition is an injustice that trumps (in my opinion at least) any injustice she may cause while driving and that is exactly what would happen If the justice system were to ban her from driving. She would be punished for something she has virtually no control over. The fact that her baseline blood alcohol level is over the limit does not automatically mean she is incapable of functioning properly in traffic. This woman has

              • The intent of banning her from driving is not to punish her, but to ensure safety of others on the roads.

                Arguably, this condition should be treated the same as a disability that would prevent one from using the car, and government should step in and provide her with subsidized access to alternate means of transportation.

          • by jrumney ( 197329 )

            That can be easily proven by taking an actual blood test.

            I don't know about the US, but in a lot of countries, you have the right to request an immediate blood test after being found to be over the limit on a breath test. Mainly this is due to the fact that a breath test will measure high for very recent consumption, as evaporated alcohol from the stomach may be mixing with air exhaled from lungs. The same process is probably occurring here, and her blood alcohol level may be much lower than expected from t

        • Why do we even have strict liability offenses at all?

          What's the purpose of punishing someone for a crime that they didn't know is one, and/or had no intent of committing?

      • Re:Doesn't matter. (Score:4, Interesting)

        by grahammm ( 9083 ) <graham@gmurray.org.uk> on Sunday January 03, 2016 @05:22AM (#51229689)

        Yet if her condition means that she has more then the permitted blood alcohol then her driving license should be revoked. If (at least in the UK) if you suffer from certain medical conditions, such as epilepsy, then you are automatically disqualified from driving. While, as she did know that she had this condition, she should not be charged with drunk driving, she should be banned from driving on medical grounds.

        • That is a little too extreme. Just require a breathalyser lock on the ignition. She is likely not drunk the majority of the time.
        • If (at least in the UK) if you suffer from certain medical conditions, such as epilepsy, then you are automatically disqualified from driving.

          That's decided on a case-by-case basis, depending on when you last had a seizure, under what conditions you have seizures, and other stuf. There's no blanket ban.

      • We arrest people for DUI because they are driving while impaired. Apparently this woman has no symptoms with a BAC of .40, which is enough to put normal people in a coma (.50 is enough to kill a typical person.) Since she obviously has a very high tolerance for it, and thus isn't impaired, there's no sense in restricting her driving.

        • What measurement is 0.40 and 0.50? We use promille (1/1000 of volume).

          With 0.4 promille no one is even remotely drunk. Koma, depending on your "toughness" is somewhere between 1.5 and 2.5 promille.

      • She had four drinks that afternoon. Granted that shouldn't make her falling down drunk, but she was drinking and she was impaired.
      • She actually only needs to be "banned from driving" if her medical condition "makes her drunk" or puts here above the legal alcohol limits.

      • DUI doesn't require knowledge or consent in most states. Ignorance of the law or how you're breaking it does not make you innocent, its mind blowing that people keep parroting that sort of crap.

        Mens Rea != Ignorance is bliss

        And no, she shouldn't lose her license, thats fucking retarded ignorance by assholes who don't understand how the world works.

        This woman shouldn't be prosecuted ... and wasn't after the truth came out. Good. This is a judge doing the right thing even though he legally could have hit h

    • If she has a condition that gives her a DUI, she shouldn't be driving, ever. Sucks for her but too bad.

      Maybe so, but was she under the influence?

    • Well, if her condition also allows her to drive normally with a BAC of 0.2, why should the fact that other people would be intoxicated prevent her from driving? What if she had a disorder that caused false positives all the time, without the alcohol?

    • by mysidia ( 191772 )

      If she has a condition that gives her a DUI, she shouldn't be driving, ever. Sucks for her but too bad.

      No.... since she had a Blood Alcohol content of 0.3, but no symptoms of being drunk, at a level that renders other people unconcious, then apparently her body has adapted to the condition in some manner, so the traditional BAC measurement became meaningless for her, and they should independently determine if she is "capable of safely driving" using criteria other than their apparently flawwed tech

  • by BitterOak ( 537666 ) on Sunday January 03, 2016 @03:18AM (#51229469)
    DUI means driving while under the influence of alcohol as measured by your blood alcohol content. It is alcohol in your blood that impairs your ability to drive. It doesn't matter how it got there. Whether you drink, take too much cough medicine, or have a medical condition that causes you to produce alcohol, it's still in your blood and impairing your ability to drive. Now, if it's a first offense, and the defendant didn't know they had the disease, I can see letting them off with a warning, but if the defendant knew about the condition then they have no business driving. Some medical conditions make it unsafe to drive. Blind people, for instance, can't drive. It sucks, but it happens.
    • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
      Other versions of the story indicate that she didn't know she had it until pulled over. So this could well have been the first time she ever heard of it. So she should now lose her license, until cured. But doesn't need to be punished for a rare medical condition she didn't know about.
    • by EmeraldBot ( 3513925 ) on Sunday January 03, 2016 @03:36AM (#51229521)

      DUI means driving while under the influence of alcohol as measured by your blood alcohol content. It is alcohol in your blood that impairs your ability to drive. It doesn't matter how it got there. Whether you drink, take too much cough medicine, or have a medical condition that causes you to produce alcohol, it's still in your blood and impairing your ability to drive. Now, if it's a first offense, and the defendant didn't know they had the disease, I can see letting them off with a warning, but if the defendant knew about the condition then they have no business driving. Some medical conditions make it unsafe to drive. Blind people, for instance, can't drive. It sucks, but it happens.

      Except that, if you'd actually read the article (or god forbid, the summary), she showed absolutely no symptoms of it at all until it reached ~0.30, which would be enough to kill most of us. If she suffers no ill effects from it, and it didn't change anything, why not give her a waiver for it? The judge made a reasonable ruling, which is rare for a newstory, especially here. And even though it doesn't seem to have an effect, she put herself on a no sugar, no alcohol, extremely low carb diet to help cut it back a little bit. For once, a news story that doesn't involve negative drama!

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        Aside from anything else, she presumably passed her driving test in this state so should be fit to drive.

        • by MrL0G1C ( 867445 )

          Driving tests don't test for alcohol or risk, being just about able to get behind the wheel and just about manage to get from a-b is not good enough, many US driving tests are nothing like as strict as the UK driving test. The woman should have been sobriety tested - reaction time, actual physical skill tests etc . Many alcoholics appear to function normally, should they too be allowed to drive?

        • Epileptics are generally considered unfit to drive. But one could still pass the test if he didn't have a fit in the middle of it.

      • Alcoholics build up a tolerance with their body masking physical symptoms. They learn to cover up the bigger tells and become consummate liars.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by radarskiy ( 2874255 )

      "as measured by your blood alcohol content."

      She had been charged on the basis of a breathalyzer test. In a normal person there is a known relationship between breath alcohol level and blood alcohol level. This condition has clearly changed that relationship, since she blew nearly a 0.4 but was still conscious so it is implausible that the actual blood alcohol content was that high. What's funny is that the article never mentions any actual blood tests, only breathalyzer tests.

      • I'm surprised there was even a breath test. I thought in the US they used "roadside sobriety tests" which means you have to stand on one leg while rubbing your stomach and patting your head.

        I can barely do any of those things on its own.

        • by Agripa ( 139780 )

          Roadside sobriety tests are used to establish probable cause. You generally are required to comply with a breathalyzer or blood test but not a roadside sobriety test.

      • by Megane ( 129182 )

        I was thinking that too, but "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". So in the hospital she did have breath tests, and this may imply they apparently also drew blood. I'm pretty sure you don't use a lab for breath tests. But if they didn't actually draw blood, it could have been from alcohol in her digestive system that was far enough down that it couldn't

    • by sjames ( 1099 )

      However, it can be argued that if you drink the cough medicine you SHOULD have known it would raise your BAC. That also covers the lame excuses of I lost track, or I felt OK (you should know alcohol makes you overestimate your abilities). A blind person certainly knows they're blind. This lady has a medical condition that very few even know exists.

      There is a growing list of laws that claim struct liability, but I would say those are ethically questionable at best.

      • by Damouze ( 766305 )

        That goes for -all- strict liability laws.

  • From the article:

    Because she blew a blood alcohol level of nearly 0.40, police procedure is to take the accused to a hospital, as that level is considered extremely life-threatening.

    Why would medical professionals knowingly release a patient despite the knowledge she had life-threatening levels of alcohol in their body? Assuming they didn't diagnose her of the auto-brewery syndrome right away, you would think they would at least keep her overnight for observation.

    • by dohzer ( 867770 )

      But then she would have missed the epic party she was driving to!

    • by radarskiy ( 2874255 ) on Sunday January 03, 2016 @04:55AM (#51229661)

      Note that this does not say they did a blood test with a blood alcohol content result of nearly 0.4. They did breath test that produced results that would correspond with a BAC of nearly 0.4 in a normal person. The entire point that this condition affects the relation between breath alcohol measurements and actual blood alcohol content.

      • Note that this does not say they did a blood test with a blood alcohol content result of nearly 0.4. They did breath test that produced results that would correspond with a BAC of nearly 0.4 in a normal person.

        Actually, TFA says explicitly that they did a blood test at the hospital and it showed a level of 0.3.

        The entire point that this condition affects the relation between breath alcohol measurements and actual blood alcohol content.

        Citation needed. The blood test was administered hours after the breathalyzer, and TFA implies she had had at least some drink earlier... and even if not, blood alcohol levels presumably vary over time, even in people with this condition, since alcohol production is triggered by dietary intake.

        • "TFA says explicitly that they did a blood test at the hospital"

          The article says blood alcohol level, but never says drew blood. Any references to the test are either "she blew" or "a person trained in Breathalyzers". The result of a Breathalyzer test is still called blood alcohol level even though no blood has been directly tested.

      • What would be physical mechanism behind the change in the relation between BAC and breath alcohol? Breath alcohol level should depend only on the temperature and the alcohol/water ratio in the lungs, which should be very close to the BAC.

  • This "auto-brewery syndrome" comes from overeating Twinkies, I suspect.

  • by geopsychic ( 932419 ) on Sunday January 03, 2016 @03:21AM (#51229483)
    back in WWII. The patient was an enlisted man who would get falling down drunk after drinking milk. In his case, antibiotics cleared it up.
  • I seem to remember reading about a family, that could turn sugar into alcohol right in their blood. They would also hypnotize possums into making a fire and roasting themselves. They were capable of other feats too, mostly motivated by laziness, of course. Can't find the author now, though...
  • Being pissed all the time!

    Hmm, on second thoughts, what is better? 1) to be pissed all the time, or 2) to have drinks every now and then?

    Sadly, probably a sign of growing up, I now prefer intermittent drinking. I enjoy it as a contrast to my normal days.

    When younger, I can remember being boozed for days. Really, the fun is in the first few hours, or perhaps evening. Less fun after that, exponential decay.

    So, I feel sorry for her. Weird.

  • There is a huge problem with legal limits. The affects of alcohol are different for everyone. I've known grown men who could down a 40oz of Rye in an evening and still be standing, coherent and functional. I've also known average sized adult men that after 2 beers were slurring and drunk.

    Alcohol affects everyone differently. The fact that her homeostasis is 4x the legal limit means her body has probably adapted to the constant presence of alcohol and she wouldn't have any of the symptoms of being drunk.

    We n

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      Alcohol affects everyone differently.

      Yes and no. Practice helps. People who drink a lot learn to compensate for impaired reaction times and can seem normal to the untrained eye. But the impairment, particularly as it affects involuntary muscle control, is quite predictable for a wide range of subjects.

      You can drive more slowly, leave a greater following distance behind other traffic and stay in the left lane. But if something unexpected happens, your reactions are messed up, no matter how well you think you can hold your booze.

    • by Improv ( 2467 )

      Imperfection of a regime doesn't make it crap nor does it stop it from saving lives. Your concern might be reasonable if we can find a nice ideally-mechanical standard to replace it that's compellingly better given all possible concerns. Until then, cope.

  • Driving Under the Influence means deciding to drive when you are impaired so why does it matter if she drank alcohol or drank some other liquid/food which turned to alcohol/etc to impair her judgement?
  • Brewing is what people do to beer and coffee and perhaps other thing.

    Her body makes alcohol. It is MAKING alcohol, not brewing beer, nor coffee or anything else.

       

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