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Did a California man really get charged with DUI for coffee?

Did a California man really get charged with DUI for coffee?

In the quest for potential intoxicants, caffeine was the only suspect.

Australian-British comedian Tim Minchin once quipped, “It’s the fine balance of caffeine and alcohol that bookends my days.”

Therefore it is not surprising that in California, being the most unbalanced state in this great Union, someone was recently charged with Drinking Under the Influence…with caffeine as the only suspect.

Joseph Schwab was pulled over in August 2015 in Fairfield, California. According to a statement from the Solano County District Attorney’s office, the officer at the scene was suspicious because of Schwab’s “erratic and reckless driving” and his “demeanor” and “performance on a number of field sobriety tests.”

The officer charged Schwab with a DUI, and the charge stood even when his blood sample tested negative for drugs such as cocaine, THC and opiates.

Surprised by the negative results, the District Attorney’s office then ordered more testing. After much time and analysis, the investigators concluded that caffeine was the only substance in his bloodstream at the time.

According to California law, a drug is any substance that isn’t alcohol that might “impair, to an appreciable degree” a driver’s capability behind the wheel. How the state might attempt to argue caffeine did that to Schwab, we are not sure.

“No one believed me that I only had caffeine in my system until I showed them the lab results,” said Schwab…. “I want the charges to be dismissed and my name to be cleared.”

The DA’s office argued that the charges were not due to Schwab’s overdosing on coffee.

“The charge of driving under the influence is not based upon the presence of caffeine in his system,” in the prosecutor’s words. The question is whether, following tests that the defense lawyer says clear Mr. Schwab of any suggestion of intoxicants in his system, the prosecution should have to explain its reasons for not dropping charges originally premised on what an officer said was erratic driving.

Apparently no evidence of another intoxicant was found, and Schwab got a New Year’s Eve miracle: The charges have now been dropped. Furthermore, a forensic scientist who reviewed the case indicated that caffeine actually helps improve driving skills.

Forensic toxicologist Edwin Smith told the news station that caffeine may actually improve the ability of most drivers.

“Very few, if any, of those people are having problems functioning in a task like driving,” Smith told Fox 6. “Most are probably doing it as well, and potentially even better than they would do without it.”

As I sit here swilling my Christmas Blend brew, I will add to Smith’s remarks that I personally do better at everything once I have had my cup of morning coffee. It pairs nicely with the other bookend of my day, which is a delicious port that was a Christmas gift from my best friend.


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Henry Hawkins | January 2, 2017 at 7:36 am

Caffeine addict here. It’s not that I do great after drinking coffee in the morning, but that I can do nothing without it.

“…someone was recently charged with Drinking Under the Influence…with caffeine as the only suspect.”

You may want to change that, Leslie.

I read about this earlier, and the officer involved was not traffic police, but a female ABC agent who did not like his driving or his denials after being stopped.

I have to wonder if this was not a road rage incident, with the rage being on the part of the ABC agent?

    tom swift in reply to Valerie. | January 2, 2017 at 8:46 am

    That wouldn’t explain the strange behavior of the DA’s office.

      Valerie in reply to tom swift. | January 2, 2017 at 10:56 am

      Somebody really pressed this, and I am curious as to why. My nasty, suspicious mind has been making up facts, because the “news” articles have been leaving out critical information.

The amazing thing to me is that so many f’n California lawyers spent so much of the people’s money on this charade. I think Valerie is right.

Lack of sleep can make you drive very erratically, with no drugs taken, caffeine might help in that case. Improper operation of a motor vehicle or some similar charge might be in order for that certainly not DUI.

    gospace in reply to Fredlike. | January 2, 2017 at 8:52 am

    I commute home between midnight and 0100, a prime hour for police to find drunk drivers. As a result, I find flashing lights behind me far more frequently than I should. “I pulled you over because you were weaving between the lines” is something I’ve heard more then once. Not over the lines,but between the lines. There’s always the denial of randomly being pulled over for a drunk driving check. That’s unconstitutional. So far, the troopers, deputy sheriffs, and local police have had sense enough not to ticket me for some idiot judgment charge like erratic driving. And half the time when pulled over for a minor equipment violation, instead of a nuisance ticket I’ve just been told to get it fixed. I had never ever checked to see if my license plate lights were working until I was pulled over because they were out. But a change of improper operation of a motor vehicle or something similar is most certainly not in order.

      tef in reply to gospace. | January 2, 2017 at 2:44 pm

      When I started delivering papers between 3 and 7 AM I was constantly stopped by the police. They would make stuff just to stop me. I installed a dashcam for my protection. At one specific spot where I delivered a paper I was stopped at least seven times that I remember. So when someone says they’ve been stopped for no reason, it matches my experience.

      My attitude toward the police has changed. I no longer give them the benefit of the doubt. The police lie just as much as everyone else.

      gospace in reply to gospace. | January 2, 2017 at 8:02 pm

      Forgot to mention. Frequent interaction with authorities has other real world consequences you may not be aware of. I work with young adults in BSA. Another adult convinced me I should be a little more paranoid and obtain a one million dollar umbrella liability policy. I was turned down for one, and the stated reason was my frequent traffic stops made me too high a risk. If I decide that working with young adults is too high a risk, especially now that my youngest just made Eagle, and I leave Scouting, the local Troop dies with my departure. The younger parents don’t want to take up the burden of adult leadership. And off topic, but aside from the other adult urging me, the experience that helped lead to his urging and my listening has fully convinced me that allowing open homosexuals in BSA as members is a bad thing.

Or, maybe the guy is just a piss-poor driver, and the ‘agent’ is easily pissed-off.

Unknown3rdParty | January 2, 2017 at 8:50 am

From one who doesn’t drink coffee, lattes, espressos, etc., it makes me wonder what the so-called legal experts in the oddball nation of Kalifornistan won’t try to pin on its disloyal subjects. Perhaps an overdose of turkey? Too much grapefruit extract? Too many fruits, nuts and flakes in the granola?

Ultimately, it sounds like this is a badly written law, one that is left too widely open for interpretation (by not strictly defining performance-inhibiting factors) by those called upon to enforce it, and, in this case, the officer in question was so desperate for a collar that the only solution was to grasp at straws.

If you have any experience with people at all, you all have met and known people who act worse stone cold sober than many do when they are bombed out of their minds.

The idea that people can only act nuts because they’re on some kind of substance, legal and illegal, is a comfortable fiction at best. As is the notion that everyone is capable of driving well.

Driving Under the Influence is a difficult law to enforce, in most jurisdictions. The reason is that evidence of chemical impairment can not be legally obtained until a person is placed under arrest. And, most states have no statute, except DUI, which allows for an arrest for suspected DUI or physical impairment not related to proscribed chemical substances. Therefor, all arrests, made for impairment are largely based upon physical performance tests, behavior and, in some cases, odors associated with alcoholic beverages. Cases can still be tried, if no breath or blood test is performed, based upon the observed behavior of the person arrested.

However, in this case, a blood test was performed. It failed to indicate the presence of any of the proscribed chemical substances. And, attempting to make a case that the caffeine caused physical impairment is an extreme long shot. It might be worth a try in the case of a fatal accident. But, the charges should have been dismissed immediately upon receipt of the second, more comprehensive, blood test, as there was no report of a fatal accident involved.

    DaveGinOly in reply to Mac45. | January 2, 2017 at 1:20 pm

    In Washington State, DUI laws are known to the cops as “implied consent” laws. Your driver license implies your consent to perform roadside sobriety tests and to blow for a breathalyzer. Cops can also get a judge’s permission for a blood draw over the radio.

    In this situation, the state would have to show how much caffeine was in the driver’s blood, and would have to show studies that demonstrated that amount of caffeine could cause “impairment.” The latter are probably non-existent.

      A number of years ago, I was headed back home late at night with my teenaged son in the car when we came upon a drunk driving checkpoint (since there was a home football game, they like to pick those days) My son was nervous, but I just had him get out the insurance card from the glovebox while we waited, rolled the window all the way down, and the whole conversation went:
      Officer: Good evening, sir. (boilerplate text) May I see your license and proof of insurance?
      Me: Here you go, officer.
      (pause to look at them, hands them back)
      Officer: Thank you, sir. Here you go. Have a nice night.
      Me: Thank you, officer.

      (I have a certain unfavorable opinion of idiots who refuse to roll their window down, address the officer politely, or claim they don’t need a license to operate a vehicle on public roads.)

      Up until Feb 2016, Kansas was also an “Implied Consent” state where refusing to submit to a breathalizer meant an automatic conviction for DUI and removal of license for one year and driving with an ignition interlock for two. (I had to look it up, because I thought we still were IC) The Kansas Supreme Court in a 6-1 decision decided that was unconstitutional (like so much of what they’ve decided lately). In December, the SCOTUS announced they’re going to take up the issue nationally, so we’ll see.

      (Interesting trivia: There’s only one Brownback appointee on the Kansas Supreme Court. Four are from Sebelius, and two from moderate Republican Bill Graves. Explains a lot of their 6-1 decisions.)

        gospace in reply to georgfelis. | January 2, 2017 at 7:29 pm

        I have an objection to drunk driving checkpoints. “May I zee your paperz, zur? I didn’t spend 21 years in the Navy upholding and protecting the Constitution so I could be randomly stopped as in internal USSR checkpoints to make sure all is in order. This is one of those areas where the courts are dead, dead, DEAD wrong. Roadblocks except for emergency purposes such as a prisoner escape are unconstitutional, period. That courts have found otherwise only prove that it takes special legal training to find ways to justify unconstitutional actions by declaring them Constitutional with convoluted reasoning. In particular, it violates the 4th Amendment. And freedom of movement and passage throughout any state or between states is one of those unenumerated 10th Amendment rights that people recognize exists that is violated by random roadblocks.

sue them under 18 USC 242 it’s one of two ways to
stop the scum .

As I posted on another thread.
If too much caffeine is grounds for a D.U.I, then talking to me before my second cup of coffee in the morning should be considered assisted suicide.

    Gremlin1974 in reply to ooddballz. | January 2, 2017 at 8:02 pm

    If that is the case, wouldn’t that make the CEO’s of Starbucks, Dunken Donuts, and the cola companies Drug Lords?