In California, Driving While Caffeinated Could Get You a DUI – Maybe

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By Emily Zanotti | 4:43 pm, December 28, 2016

A California man is desperately fighting the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control after being socked with a DUI charge for “driving while caffeinated.”

A CDABC agent pulled over 36-year-old Joseph Schwab on his way home from work, after noting that he was “driving erratically.” The officer, Agent Ott, says that Schwab’s pupils were dilated and that he was “agitated” and behaving “aggressively” towards her, leading her to believe she needed to administer a field sobriety test.

But despite blowing a 0.0% on the Breathalyzer, indicating that he had no alcohol in his system, Schwab was taken into custody and given a blood test to look for illicit substances. The test came up negative, except for the presence of caffeine.

That supposedly earned Schwab a DUI charge—ten months after Schwab was pulled over—even though caffeine, even in large quantities, is completely legal in California—or, at least, Joshua and his lawyer thought.

“I didn’t believe it,” Stacy Barrett, Schwab’s attorney, told local media. “I actually consulted with the other attorneys in my office, to make sure that I wasn’t missing something.”

It turns out, California leaves the definition of what constitutes a “drug” open so that it can include any substance that impairs the abilities of a driver. That means California isn’t bound by explicit drug names or a specific list of substances, and that enforcement officials have a degree of flexibility, allowing them to take dangerous drivers into custody, without worrying about identifying exactly what’s floating around in their system.

Caffeine alone probably isn’t enough to prosecute someone with a DUI, but the prosecutor’s theory is that Schwab had another drug in his system that didn’t show up on the test – so she intends to use caffeine to bring the charges, even if it means (possibly) anyone pulling out of a Starbucks Drive-Thru could eventually lose their license.

The theory of prosecution has stymied Schwab’s lawyers. “I have not been provided with any evidence to support a theory of prosecution for a substance other than caffeine at this time,” his attorney stated. “Nor I have received any statements, reports, etc documenting any ongoing investigation since the [toxicology report] dated 18 November 2015.”

And nfortunately for Schwab, though, employers and banks don’t often look past the “DUI” label to see that he was drinking coffee or taking caffeine-laced fitness supplements. They just assume he was drunk driving—and there’s no evidence that he’s been imbibing either alcohol or illicit substances.

Schwab and his lawyers have filed a motion asking that the case be dismissed, citing a public need to limit law enforcement from issuing charges for any drug, not just the ones that impair drives. Their motion will go before a judge in early January.