Criminal Justice

Lawyer gets client's DWI charge tossed after discovering her rare affliction

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Lawyer Joseph Marusak decided to investigate after his DWI client insisted she consumed only a few drinks on the day she registered a blood alcohol level that was four times the legal limit.

Marusak, who practices law in Buffalo, New York, says he searched the Internet to see if there was a medical reason why his client registered a .33 percent blood alcohol level on a Breathalyzer, the Buffalo News reports. The client, a 35-year-old school teacher from Hamburg, was pulled over by police in October 2014 after another driver called police to report her car was weaving.

Marusak discovered a rare intestinal disorder called Auto-Brewery Syndrome in which ordinary food is converted into alcohol because of yeast in the digestive system. Marusak sent his client to Dr. Anup Kanodia, who has treated people for the disorder. The client was observed by medical personnel for a 12-hour period when she wasn’t drinking, and her blood alcohol levels ranged from .279 to .40.

Marusak presented the medical findings and sought a dismissal of the case. A judge dismissed a charge of aggravated driving while intoxicated on Dec. 9. The Erie County District Attorney’s office says it will seek reinstatement of the charge on appeal.

The Buffalo News spoke with Kanodia, who said some people with Auto-Brewery Syndrome can tolerate high alcohol levels because their bodies are used to them. He acknowledged, however, that it would not be safe to drive during a flare-up.

Kanodia said he is working with five other lawyers in the United States and Canada who are citing the syndrome as a defense in DWI cases.

Marusak’s client changed her diet after her diagnosis and hasn’t had another episode, Marusak told the Buffalo News.

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