A judge in Hamburg, New York dismissed a DUI case against a woman who claimed a unique medical condition – a condition that causes her body to brew alcohol. The condition is called “gut fermentation syndrome” or “auto brewery syndrome.” The syndrome causes the body to convert carbohydrates found in food into alcohol. When the driver was investigated for the DUI, her blood alcohol level came back more than four times the legal limit. Interestingly, the condition allows a person who suffers from the syndrome to function with a BAC level that would make most people drunk. According to the defense attorney, he knew something unusual had happened because his client was released from the hospital shortly after she arrived because she showed no symptoms of being intoxicated.
It is not clear when or how the judge dismissed the DUI charge. In Colorado, a simple DUI is an unclassified traffic misdemeanor. A judge cannot just dismiss a case. There are limited circumstances when a judge has the authority to dismiss a case or even charges in a case.
- If the prosecution requests a dismissal, then a judge may grant the request. That is not the case here because the prosecution disagreed with the dismissal and plans to appeal the decision.
- Certain high level charges, such as high level felonies and felonies that carry a mandatory prison sentence, are eligible for a preliminary hearing. A preliminary hearing is a hearing held early on in the proceedings to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to keep the case in the system. If a judge decides there is not sufficient evidence, then the charge is dismissed. However, the amount of evidence needed to meet this standard is low and all of the evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the prosecution, so it is unusual for a charge to get dismissed at preliminary hearing.
- If there is prosecutorial misconduct, which includes bad behavior by the prosecution and/or law enforcement, the judge may dismiss charges or an entire case as a sanction for the bad behavior.
- Finally, during a trial, the prosecution presents its evidence first and the the defense presents its evidence. In this case, it would be information about the driver’s medical condition. If the prosecution has not provided enough evidence for a jury to reach a guilty verdict, the judge may decide not to allow a jury to make the decision and may dismiss the charge for lack of evidence.
In Colorado, it the type of defense presented likely falls with an involuntary intoxication defense. The defense lawyer would be required to file a motion to put the court and prosecution on notice of the intent to argue involuntary intoxication. The court, before trial, must make a decision about whether the defense will be allowed to present the evidence about involuntary intoxication. But, in Colorado, a judge does not get to decide whether the defense should result in a dismissal. The judge only decides whether there is enough evidence to allow the jury to hear the information and then make its own decision about whether the driver was guilty.