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Drinking Caffeine May Result in a DUI Arrest

photodune-493876-coffee-m (1).jpgIn August of 2015, 36-year-old Joseph Schwab of California, was pulled over for allegedly cutting off a California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control agent. The agent was driving in an unmarked vehicle. The agent pursued Schwab and pulled him over for allegedly driving erratically.

Though Schwab displayed no signs of intoxication, the agent requested him to perform a breathalyzer test. The breathalyzer test calibrated a blood alcohol content of 0.00%. Despite the negative results, the agent believed Schwab was possibly under the influence of some sort of controlled substance. According to the agent, Schwab was acting "amped up" and excessively agitated during the traffic stop. Schwab's pupils were also dilated. Several different workout supplements were visible in his vehicle. Based on these factors, the agent decided to proceed with conducting field sobriety tests. The agent claimed Schwab failed the field sobriety tests and arrested him for driving while intoxicated.

At the police station, Schwab provided a blood sample to law enforcement to test for controlled substances in his system. The test results came back negative for all controlled substances including cocaine, opiates, THC, zolpidem, oxycodone, carisoprodol, benzodiazepines, and methamphetamines. In fact, the only thing that showed up after multiple analyses of his bloodwork by different labs was caffeine. Ten months later, Solano County brought a charge against Schwab for driving while under the influence. Schwab disputed the charge claiming the police lacked sufficient evidence that demonstrated he operated his vehicle under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance.

Per the California Vehicle Code, a "drug" for purposes of the statute is defined as any substance other than alcohol that can affect a person and "impair, to an appreciable degree," his or her ability to normally drive. Caffeine has never been considered a "drug" under this code, and no studies have been conducted demonstrating that caffeine can impair driving. In fact, caffeine is routinely touted as something that can help drivers stay alert, and is made available at rest stops and gas stations throughout the country for truck drivers. Jeffrey Zehnder, a forensic toxicologist who routinely testifies in court cases as an expert witness commented that in over 41 years, he has never seen a prosecution for a charge of driving while under the influence of caffeine. "If that's the case, then they better come and arrest me," joked Zehnder.

The DUI charges filed against Schwab were eventually dropped and a reckless driving charge was added instead. This goes to show that law enforcement may stretch legalities to arrest an innocent driver. If you have been charged with drunk driving in the Ann Arbor area, contact my law office for a consultation and representation.

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