California Police Charge Man With “Driving Under the Influence” of Caffeine
**UPDATE** The DUI charge was dropped on December 29, 2016. (One day after this post was published – #JusSayin)
Joseph Schwab was pulled over in the Northern California county of Solano in August of 2015. In spite of a breathalyzer indicating he had no alcohol whatsoever in his system, he was arrested and forced to have blood drawn. Once again, no alcohol or any illegal drug was found in his system. In fact, the only drug found in his system was caffeine. In spite of that, he is being charged with a misdemeanor for driving under the influence of a drug.
Shcwab was driving home from work when he was pulled over by an agent from the California department of alcoholic beverage control, who was driving an unmarked vehicle. The agent said Schwab had cut her off and was driving erratically.
The 36-year-old union glazier was given a breathalyzer test which showed a 0.00% blood alcohol level, his attorney said. He was booked into county jail and had his blood drawn, but the resulting toxicology report came back negative for benzodiazepines, cocaine, opiates, THC, carisoprodol (a muscle relaxant), methamphetamine/MDMA, oxycodone, and zolpidem.
The sample was screened a second time by a laboratory in Pennsylvania, according to documents provided to the Guardian, where the sole positive result was for caffeine – a substance likely coursing through the veins of many drivers on the road at any given time.
“I’ve never seen this before,” said (defense attorney Stacey) Barrett. “I’ve never even heard of it.”
Barrett has filed a motion for the case to be dismissed because the charges were not brought until June 2016 – nearly 10 months after incident. If that motion is denied, Schwab will take his case to a jury on 11 January.
Sharon Henry, chief deputy district attorney for Solano County, said in a statement that her office was “conducting further investigation in this matter”.
“The charge of driving under the influence is not based upon the presence of caffeine in his system,” she added.
Barrett counters that if the prosecution has evidence of a different drug in her client’s system, it should have to provided that to her, based on the rules governing criminal procedings (sic).
“I have not been provided with any evidence to support a theory of prosecution for a substance other than caffeine at this time,” she said. “Nor I have received any statements, reports, etc documenting any ongoing investigation since the [toxicology report] dated 18 November 2015.”
Henry declined to comment further, citing the right to a fair trial.
“It’s really stupid,” said Jeffrey Zehnder, a forensic toxicologist who frequently testifies in court cases. Over 41 years, Zehnder said, he had never seen a prosecution for driving under the influence of caffeine.
“If that’s the case, then they better come and arrest me,” he joked.
Zehnder was informed about the case by Barrett, but has not been contracted to testify on either side.
California vehicle code defines a “drug” as any substance besides alcohol that could affect a person in a manner that would “impair, to an appreciable degree” his ability to drive normally.
Making that case with caffeine would be difficult, Zehnder said, because the prosecutor would have to show that impaired driving was specifically caused by the caffeine and not any other circumstances.
“There are no studies that demonstrate that driving is impaired by caffeine, and they don’t do the studies, because no one cares about caffeine,” he said.
As for Schwab, he just wants this ordeal to be over. In a statement provided to the Guardian by his attorney, he said his reputation had been damaged.
“No one believed me that I only had caffeine in my system until I showed them the lab results,” he said. “I want the charges to be dismissed and my name to be cleared.”
It’s interesting that the charges weren’t filed until 10 months later, which means they knew that the tests came back showing no drugs in his system. Sounds like somebody was hoping that Schwab would just accept some sort of plea deal rather than deal with the ridiculous charge, as most people do. It also shows that they don’t really have any evidence to support charges based on anything real, such as reckless driving, so they likely just rolled the dice hoping that he wouldn’t be able to afford a lawyer and they could just railroad him into pleading guilty to a lesser charge rather than dropping the obviously false DUI charge.