How Heartburn, Acid Reflux and GERD Can Affect a DUI Case

By Vancouver WA DUI Defense Attorney Roger Priest

Do you suffer from heartburn, acid reflux, or GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease)?  Then you suffer from a health condition that can make you more susceptible to being falsely accused of a DUI.  Alcohol related DUI cases in Washington are investigated and prosecuted based mostly on breath testing.  If you are arrested for a DUI, you will be required by Washington law to provide a breath test which will be used as evidence against you in court.  If that breath test results in a reading that your blood alcohol concentration is above 0.08%, you are at a substantial risk of being convicted of a DUI.

The 0.08% Legal Limit for DUI

But, how do we know that a reading of 0.08% means guilty?  The law presumes that a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% is “impairment”.  However, a breath test reading of 0.08% does not itself mean your blood alcohol concentration is 0.08%.  The only way to truly know your blood alcohol content is to draw and test your blood directly.  Breath testing is a method of approximating your blood alcohol concentration through indirect means.

Understanding how breath testing works is crucial to understanding why it is susceptible to errors with certain medical conditions like acid reflux and GERD.  When you breath, the blood vessels (capillaries) in your lungs swap air and blood.  This is how oxygen from the air you breath gets into your body so that you don’t suffocate.  This is also how waste gases like carbon dioxide are processed out of your body and expelled as breath.

Then you drink alcohol, it absorbs through your stomach lining and gets into your blood.  As it moves through your body alcohol will move from your lung capillaries into the lungs and be expelled as part of your breath.  This is why you often smell alcohol on someone’s breath when they’ve had a lot to drink.  The breath testing machine tests your breath for the amount of alcohol it contains.  The higher your breath alcohol content, the higher your blood alcohol content.  Or is it?

How Acid Reflux and GERD Can Fool the Breath Testing Machine

Breath testing devices are calibrated by the manufacturers to correlate breath alcohol concentration amounts to an equivalent blood alcohol concentration.  However, they are tested and designed based off of normal healthy persons with normal physiology.

When you suffer from acid reflux or GERD, the contents of your stomach get mixed with the content of your lungs when you breathe out.  The closing at the bottom of your esophagus opens when it is not supposed to, allowing the contents of your stomach to seep back up into your esophagus and mouth.

When you have alcohol sitting in your stomach that is coming back up into your esophagus and mouth it can mix with you lung breath and show a breath alcohol concentration that is much higher than your actual blood alcohol concentration.  Therefore, having one or two drinks can make it seem like you had four or five.

Breath testing devices have special tools called “slope detectors” that are designed to identify alcohol that is in your mouth as opposed to coming from your lungs.  If it senses mouth alcohol, it is supposed to invalidate the sample.  However, research has shown that slope detectors are not particularly good at identifying mouth alcohol and can easily fail to recognize it.  As such, breath testing devices are not all that accurate, especially when facing unique medical conditions, like acid reflux and GERD.

Call In Vancouver WA For Legal Help Today

If you have been charged with a DUI and suffer from acid reflux or GERD, you may be able to beat the charge.  At VanWa Legal PLLC, we offer a free consultation on every DUI case, so call today to learn more.

If You Have Been Charged With A DUI In Clark County or Vancouver WA, Time Is Of The Essence!

Call Our Office To Speak With Attorney Roger Priest Immediately.