Maine Supreme Court Dismisses Auto-Brewery Syndrome Testimony


You may have heard stories and advice about how you should always try to go for a blood test rather than a breathalyzer when being tested for a DUI. These stories have some truth to them. The yeast from alcohol breaks down sugars in our body, producing carbon dioxide and alcohol. This process occurs in the digestive system and then continues in the blood. Therefore, your DUI lawyer has a higher possibility of  convincing the judge that the BAC from your blood test is higher than what was in your bloodstream at the time of the arrest.

Now, what if your body did this without you actually drinking beer or any other alcohol? It sounds like something out of a sci-fi novel, but such a condition does exist; it is called auto-brewery syndrome. This condition causes a person to create very high levels of yeast within his or her digestive tract. When any sugar is ingested, an intoxicating amount of alcohol can be created as a by-product of the fermentation process.

This condition was brought to the attention of the Maine Supreme Court in an appeal for a DUI case. The appeal was made to include expert testimonies that would help prove that said condition is a legitimate one (State v. Burbank, 2019 ME 37). The trial court dismissed the testimonies, stating that the first testimony was given by a witness who wasn’t qualified. In addition, the studies that were brought up in the testimony were not a direct study of the appellant himself. The second expert testimony was dismissed on the grounds that the appellant produced the witness too late in the trial.

The Maine Supreme Court upheld the trial court’s decision to dismiss the witnesses, stating that there were no abuses of discretion. The issue was not about the existence or legitimacy of auto brewery syndrome itself. It was about the relevance of the expert opinions and the timing of the DUI case.

What is more important to note is the concurring opinion of Justice Alexander. He states that although he agrees with the affirmed decision, he does not believe that the  defense of auto brewery syndrome should be left unaddressed. He believes that it would illicit “I didn’t know there was vodka in my orange juice” defenses.

True, there may be those who try to twist the law into their favor. And true, we do not have enough information to determine if the appellant actually had this condition. However, it cannot be denied that the condition is a real one. How do we get justice for those who have this physical condition and get pinned with a DUI?

[October 28, 2019]

Auto brewery syndrome has popped up again, as a North Carolina man exhibited symptoms of intoxication without having drunk any alcohol. Read about it more here: https://ktla.com/2019/10/25/north-carolina-man-pulled-over-for-dui-said-he-hadnt-been-drinking-researchers-found-his-body-produced-alcohol/

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