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GERD, Heartburn, or Acid Reflux as an Ohio DUI Defense

DUI Defense Strategies in Ohio

GERD, or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, is more commonly known as acid reflux and is a chronic digestive condition that often causes your stomach to throw its acidic contents back up your esophagus, causing heartburn or acid indigestion, especially after eating large meals. The condition occurs when a person’s lower esophageal sphincter has weakened or has deteriorated. Up to sixty percent of the population in the United States may experience GERD symptoms such as heartburn and acid regurgitation. While these symptoms generally are not considered to be on the level of GERD, if they occur two or more times per week, GERD may be the cause.

Adult Grabbing Their Chest

Factors that may cause acid reflux for an individual who has GERD include:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Eating spicy foods
  • Eating a large meal
  • Eating quickly after being very hungry

What Does GERD Have To Do With a DUI?

GERD is relevant to a DUI because it can cause small amounts of alcohol to be sent back up from your stomach to your mouth. This condition has the potential to throw off DUI breath tests and cause faulty readings.

Even if you have only had a small amount of alcohol to drink and are not legally drunk, GERD may cause you to fail a breathalyzer test if an officer requires you to submit to one because the acid reflux may cause some of the alcohol back up your throat from your stomach. The acid reflux causes regurgitated alcohol vapors to rise up the esophagus, mixing with alcohol from the lungs. As a result, the extra alcohol vapors coming up your esophagus could potentially cause your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in your breath sample to look significantly higher than it may actually be. Importantly, this impact can only occur if you still have any unabsorbed alcohol in your system when you are stopped by an officer and forced to submit to a breathalyzer test.

Ohio DUI laws recognize the potential impact of GERD on breathalyzer results and attempts to prevent false readings by requiring police officers to observe you for at least twenty minutes before giving you the test in order to see if you appear to be burping or suffering from heartburn or acid reflux. However, some officers will observe you for that long before administering the test and even if they the observation it does not mean that you cannot argue the GERD defense simply because the officer did not see any symptoms before giving you the breathalyzer test.

If you have GERD, some signs that it may have caused your DUI results from your BAC test to be too high include if you were had heartburn before being administered the test, if you vomited before the breathalyzer test, or if you were burping before or during your breathalyzer test.

Failed A BAC Test & Suffer from GERD

If you failed a blood alcohol concentration test for being over the legal limit, and you suffer from GERD or a similar condition, you may be able to have the charges dropped because you may not actually be guilty of driving under the influence.

Even if you have never been diagnosed with GERD before your DUI arrest, you may still be suffering from it and it could have impacted your results. If you have frequent heartburn, acid indigestion, or frequently vomit after meals, you may have GERD and need to have it diagnosed by a doctor as soon as possible.

Fortunately, the Ohio Supreme Court recently clarified that a defendant is allowed to challenge “the accuracy, competence, admissibility, relevance, authenticity, or credibility of specific test results.”

In order to argue that GERD caused an inaccurate reading from the breathalyzer test, it is extremely important that you see a doctor and receive a GERD diagnosis as soon as possible after your arrest.

With your GERD diagnosis, your attorney will argue that while you admit to having a little to drink, you were not actually over the limit, but rather the addition of alcohol vapors being expelled from your stomach back into your esophagus mixed with the vapor from your lungs caused the overly high results.

To successfully use the GERD defense, you will need as much documentation as possible that supports its effects on your test. You need the appropriate documentation from your doctor attesting to your diagnosis of having GERD as well as any documentation you may have listing any heartburn or acid reflux medication you may take, including antacids or any other over-the-counter medications. It will also be helpful if you are able to provide documentation of what you ate or drank before driving. Other helpful evidence includes any witnesses that can testify to your frequent heartburn or acid reflux or if you have any witnesses to what you ate or drank before driving.

With as much supporting information as possible to document your GERD diagnosis, your DUI defense lawyer can negotiate with the prosecuting attorney to either reduce the charges to a lesser offense like reckless driving or even dismiss your DUI case.