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The Effect of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease in a DUI

Gastroesophageal reflux disease, also know as GERD for short and closely related to and often confused with acid reflux, is a medical issue that can affect the results of a DUI breathalyzer test. Gases in the stomach can affect results of a breathalyzer test and traces of alcohol may remain present for a longer period of time despite blood alcohol content (BAC) have dissipated to beneath the national legal limit of 0.08 percent.

It is important that people suspected of DUI or charged in these cases understand how results of a breathalyzer can affect their case. Having an experienced Arizona DUI attorney for defense against DUI charges is particularly important.


About GERD, Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

GERD affects many people throughout the United States. The syndrome causes vapor and gases from the stomach to rise back up into the esophagus. These acid vapors and gases then expel from the throat and through the mouth. Eating certain foods, drinking some liquids or simple breakdown of molecules ingested by the body can cause GERD to flare up.

If a person with GERD has consumed alcohol in the past day, some raw alcohol can be expelled through the mouth. The alcohol is carried in the gasses and vapors that flow backwards into the esophagus instead of being digested through normal processes of the stomach and intestines. The person experiencing GERD can feel discomfort, such as a heartburn feeling. Others around the person may notice a foul odor on their breath due to the condition of the vapors and gasses as they reverse flow from the digestive organs into the mouth.

When alcohol remains in the digestive organs and is carried by GERD upward to the mouth, there may be an odor of alcohol as if the person has just consumed the liquid. This presence can also raise BAC levels up to or beyond the legal limit of 0.08 percent. A breathalyzer test can provide a false positive reading from these issues. But the positive results do not reflect true intoxication, thus presenting a problem for that person who must work to prove they were not drunk and instead have GERD.

Source: Copyright © Zhejiang University and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2010

Source: Copyright © Zhejiang University and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2010


Effects and Consequences of GERD in DUI Cases

Breathalyzer tests that are repeated for individuals claiming they have GERD will likely continue to return positive results for alcohol. This is because vapors expelled as part of GERD are released in concentrated amounts. Mouth breath is part of the air presented into breathalyzer tests, despite these tests being designed to measure alcohol in air from the lungs. People with GERD can have a high alcohol content in their mouth that is driven into the breathalyzer by air from the lungs, causing them to fail the DUI test. This failure is often enough evidence for the prosecution to convict the individual of DUI, despite their actual sobriety.

Unfortunately for the driver with GERD, people with this reflux experience exacerbation of their syndrome when they are under stress, anxiety or other negative emotions. This increases the vapors and gasses expelling out of their mouths. Because arrest is very emotional and stressful, GERD flares up and makes it even more difficult for the individual to prove their innocence.

When courts, police officers and others in the case become aware of the individual’s diagnosis of GERD, breathalyzer results are rendered useless. A breathalyzer administered on this type of person can garner a false positive due to residual alcohol content in the mouth, throat or esophagus.

Medical experts in GERD have affirmed that BAC levels recorded through breath tests can register between 20 and 80 percent too high, with some people gaining results 100 percent higher than actual alcohol presence in the blood. This means that people with GERD who gain a positive reading for intoxication by a breath test are more often under the legal limit.


Machines and Readings of Breath Tests

There are some breathalyzer tests that use slope detectors. Slope detectors are designed to flag BAC readings when alcohol levels lower quickly during measurement of the breath sample. This is an indicator of GERD related mouth or stomach alcohol and gasses that are skewing test results. But breathalyzers used in the field for portable breath tests do not have slope detectors and therefore cannot acknowledge GERD issues. This means that many people arrested from portable or preliminary test readings are falsely arrested because the breathalyzer readings are inaccurate in many instances.


Defending a GERD DUI Case

When a person suspected to have GERD is charged with DUI violations, it is imperative that a medical exam is conducted to confirm a gastroesophageal reflux disease diagnosis through examination. It is important that the condition is revealed to both sides of the case, even though many prosecutors are unfamiliar with this type of defense for DUI. GERD has proven to be an effective DUI defense for many cases in the past and an experienced criminal defense attorney who has knowledge of these issues and such defense will be the best one to ensure a GERD defendant is not convicted of DUI.

If you have been charged with DUI and have GERD, or suspect you may suffer from this reflux syndrome, it is important that you work with a criminal defense attorney who knows how to help you and your DUI case. Call the criminal defense lawyers of the Law Offices of David Michael Cantor now at 602.307.0808 for a free initial consultation and recommendations regarding the next steps in your defense.

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