Man Charged With DUI After Testing Positive For Caffeine Gets Justice

By Britni de la Cretaz 01/05/17

Despite the drug test results, the DA's office chose to charge the man based on the officer's account of their interaction.

Man holding cup of coffee while driving.

Here’s a new one: a man in California was charged with driving under the influence—of caffeine. Yes, essentially a DUI for drinking too much Starbucks.

Joseph Schwab was pulled over in Fairfield, California, in August 2015 for driving recklessly. He was given several field sobriety tests, which he apparently did not pass. The officer at the scene cited “erratic and reckless driving,” according to a statement from the Solano District Attorney’s office.

“The driver seemed very amped up, very agitated, very combative, and she thought he was under the influence of something,” Solano County District Attorney Krishna Abrams said, according to ABC affiliate KCRA. However, when Schwab was given a drug test, the only drug he tested positive for was caffeine. 

But that did not stop the district attorney from pursuing DUI charges. Regardless of the drug test results, the DA’s office decided to charge Schwab with driving under the influence because, they said, drug tests don’t catch every drug, and the officer’s account of the interaction seemed to imply that Schwab was definitely under the influence of something else.

Their statement explained that “at the time the case was filed, the DUI Unit filed the DUI charge based upon the observations and opinion of the officer that the defendant was under the influence of a combination of substances, including a stimulant and a depressant.”

The DA’s office remains convinced, after speaking with forensic experts, that it was “highly likely the defendant was under the influence of a drug,” despite his negative drug test. Schwab maintains that he was “100% confident that I was not under the influence of anything,” according to KCRA.

Caffeine has been accused of causing several issues: it’s been blamed for miscarriages, has been known to worsen anxiety and insomnia, and is bad for people with high blood pressure. It’s also possible to become addicted toand overdose on—caffeine. However, this is the first time anyone is aware of that it’s been implicated in causing impairment great enough to affect the driving of a car.

In fact, forensic toxicologist Edwin Smith told KCRA that it likely improves the driving of most people. “Very few, if any of those are having problems functioning in a task like driving," Smith said. "Most are probably doing it as well, and potentially even better than they would do without it."

Schwab’s attorney told KCRA that she couldn’t believe the charges, running them by all the attorneys in her office to make sure she wasn’t missing anything.

Ultimately, the DA decided to drop the charges because they did not believe they could prove them beyond a reasonable doubt.

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.

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