We all want our streets to be safe. Drivers need to act responsibly, but so do officers who pull over people who they suspect of driving while intoxicated. Police often rely on breath tests to determine if a driver is drunk behind the wheel – which is one of the reasons we advise you not to consent to a breath test.
But breath tests are often inaccurate and unreliable tools for assessing a person’s ability to drive. For example, certain medical conditions can cause a false positive. GERD is one such condition. If the officer administering the breath test does not follow proper procedure, it can lead to an innocent person being charged for a crime they did not commit. This is why it is important to know your rights, and why having a knowledgeable attorney is a smart idea.
What is GERD?
GERD stands for gastroesophageal reflux disease. This occurs when excess stomach acid regularly flows back up into the esophagus (the tube connecting your stomach and your mouth). This backwash of acid (known as acid reflux) irritates the lining of the esophagus.
GERD can be a mild form of acid reflux that usually occurs twice a week or more. Or, it can be a moderate to severe form of acid reflux that can occur at least once a week. While most people can manage the discomfort caused by GERD by changing their lifestyle or taking over the counter medications, some people may find that stronger prescription medications are needed. In extreme cases, surgery may be necessary to ease symptoms.
Certain foods such as fried foods, spicy foods, and foods high in fat or acid can trigger your acid reflux, as can drinks such as coffee and alcohol. High fiber foods, alkaline foods, and watery foods have been shown to prevent GERD symptoms. Milk and ginger are sometimes used as at-home remedies.
Symptoms of GERD include:
- A burning feeling in your chest, occurring usually after eating (known as heartburn). This symptom can be worse at night.
- Difficulty swallowing
- The feeling of a lump in your throat
- Chest pain
- Regurgitation of food or sour liquid
Symptoms that usually occur at night time include:
- Chronic cough
- Disrupted sleep
- New or worsening asthma
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases reports that around 20% of people in the United States suffer from GERD. Complications of GERD include esophagitis (Long-term inflammation), esophageal stricture (narrowing of your esophagus), and Barrett’s esophagus (abnormal cells in your esophagus), the latter possibly being a precursor to cancer.
How does GERD affect DUI tests?
Alcohol is a common trigger for GERD, sometimes causing the alcohol a person drinks to be regurgitated into the mouth. Not only is alcohol a trigger, it is also a diuretic, which means it causes increased urination. Increased urination can lead to dehydration, which makes acid reflux symptoms worse. Alcohol consumption can also cause your lower esophageal sphincter to malfunction, increasing GERD symptoms.
Let’s say for example that after you have had one or two drinks, you decide to drive home. You’re not legally drunk; you don’t feel any effects and you’re not driving erratically.. You are pulled over (maybe in a DUI checkpoint, or because you have an air freshener hanging from your rear-view window) and the cop smells alcohol on you. If you take a breath test, your GERD can cause alcohol to be present in your mouth and esophagus, so you may end up testing with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of over 0.8 (the legal limit).
It is unlikely that mild GERD would cause this sort of outcome, but for people who suffer from severe acid reflux, it’s possible. If the officer administering the breath test does not do so correctly, you could get pinged for a DUI even though you were NOT pulled over for that reason, and you are well below the legal limit.
What guidelines does Tennessee have for DUI breath tests?
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s Forensic Services Division has a manual that dictates the guidelines that officers need to follow in order to run a proper and correct Breathalyzer test. Other than giving directions on how to enter necessary data like names and dates, the guidelines make clear the steps that need to be taken for an untainted test. One of these guidelines includes a twenty minute observation period.
In theory, this observation period between the first test and the required second test is meant to rule out mishaps and mistakes, such as those GERD might trigger. However, if the officer does not wait the necessary twenty minutes between tests, the results may be inaccurate, and could have you charged with driving while intoxicated. In Tennessee, you can still be arrested for drunk driving even if you blow lower than .08 on your breath test.
It’s important that you know your rights when it comes to DUI breath tests. You even have the right to refuse the test altogether. If you think that your breathalyzer test was done incorrectly or without your consent, you should contact the Law Offices of Adrian H. Altshuler & Associates. Our Franklin DUI defense attorneys will make sure that your rights are protected to the full extent of the law. To schedule a consultation, call us at 615-977-9370 or use our contact page. We are dedicated to working out what’s best for your family. We have offices in Franklin, Brentwood and Columbia.