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Criminal Defense

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DUI Charges Dropped against Over-Caffeinated Man

Man drinking coffee while driving

Solano County prosecutors made the news in August of 2015 for arresting a man and charging him for driving under the influence of drugs (DUID). While such arrests are commonplace, this one stood out, due to the nature of the drugs found in a test of the man’s blood. What was he on when he was pulled over? Caffeine. After 18 months of nevertheless pursuing the charges, prosecutors have recently decided to drop them.

Joseph Schwab was on his way home from work in Fairfield, California, when an Alcohol Beverage Control agent reported seeing him “weaving in and out of traffic almost causing several collisions.” The agent pulled him over, believing he may have been under the influence of drugs, and conducted field sobriety tests, including a handheld breathalyzer. She reported that Schwab seemed “agitated” and “combative,” as though he were under the influence of some drug, and arrested him. At the station, Schwab consented to a blood test, which looked for cocaine, THC, methamphetamine, oxycodone, and other drugs, but failed to find a trace of anything but caffeine. One forensic toxicologist, Jeffrey Zehnder, said that, in the 41 years he’s been in the field, he has never seen a case for driving under the influence of caffeine.

For months, the prosecutor continued to pursue charges against Schwab for DUID. California law on driving under the influence of drugs defines “drug” as a substance that can “affect the nervous system, brain, or muscles of a person as to impair, to an appreciable degree” the driver’s ability to safely drive a vehicle. This is a broad definition that could even encompass legal prescriptions or over-the-counter medication, if a law enforcement officer believes that it made the driver unable to drive safely. That said, even if it’s legal, prosecutors must be able to prove that some drug was present in the driver’s system at the time that they were behind the wheel in order to prove such charges. Technically, caffeine is a drug, though it isn’t typically considered anything but a performance enhancer when it comes to driving. Even the prosecutor admitted that, without a blood test result, it would be difficult to make the charges stick. Earlier this month, the prosecutor finally decided to drop the charges, but not before Schwab’s career was affected by having to disclose the charges he was facing. His attorney was also instrumental in applying pressure to the prosecutor’s office to dismiss the unfounded charges.

If you’re facing charges for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol in California, ensure that you receive an aggressive, determined defense by contacting the Ventura criminal defense attorney Paul Tyler for a consultation, at 805-889-9000.

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