Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disorder or GERD is a chronic digestive disorder that occurs when an individual’s lower esophageal sphincter is weakened. Contents of the stomach leak upwards from the stomach and into the esophagus, often causing heartburn. This condition that affects approximately 30 millions people across the United States each year can cause severe symptoms such as acid reflux into the upper portion of the esophagus.
Like in other states, individuals charged with a DWI in Minnesota will generally be asked to submit to a breath sample test in order to measure their BAC or blood alcohol concentration. The breath test machine measures breath alcohol or deep lung air.
A person with GERD may be unable to provide an uncontaminated sample of alveolar air or deep lung air needed, and the machine may actually be measuring the alcohol vapors or gases erupting from the stomach into the mouth. The contamination therefore may result in falsely high BAC readings, which means that he or she may be convicted for DWI despite being innocent and may be a valid DUI defense.
Although people complain of digestive conditions such as acid reflux and heartburn from time to time, medical professionals do not often diagnose it as GERD unless signs and symptoms occur more than two times a week. Studies, however, show that roughly 60 percent of those diagnosed with GERD experience the symptoms intermittently, while only about 7 percent experience symptoms of this condition on a daily basis. A person suffering from GERD will likely be taking medication on a regular basis to deal with this problem.
While many judges and legal professionals consider the mouth alcohol defense and GERD defense to be highly improbable, there have been numerous cases across the country where GERD was indeed considered as an acceptable DWI defense – one that should not be ruled out entirely.
Many DWI arrests occur late in the evening, when people have consumed alcohol and cases of acid reflux may be worse. If an individual consumes an alcoholic drink while suffering from an episode of acid reflux, then the reflux could push the stomach acid, alcohol, or alcohol vapors from the stomach and into the mouth. Apart from drinking, eating spicy foods, smoking, and even stress have been known to aggravate GERD symptoms. In some instances, severe cases of acid reflux have raised an individual’s BAC by four times the real number.
In other instances, the breath test machine may be measuring mouth alcohol instead of deep lung air. The law typically requires an observation period of about 15 minutes to ensure that the DWI suspect does not vomit or even have hiccups and cause alcohol from the stomach to be read by the machine. If the DWI suspect vomits before taking a breath test, the law enforcement officer is often required to give the suspect a glass of water and wait for 15 minutes before administering another test.
If you are being charged with DWI and have been diagnosed with GERD, be sure to inform your DWI attorney about your condition in order to substantiate the diagnosis. It may be a crucial piece of information to educate the jury about as your GERD may have affected your breath test results.