An interesting case from a county in Northern California is in the process of being prosecuted, and might affect Los Angeles DUI cases in the future. A man in Solano County is Fighting a DUI Under the Influence of Caffeine.
The newspaper The Guardian had a story about a California man fighting his DUI charge for driving under the influence of caffeine. Caffeine is an intoxicant, that can not only influence the nervous system, but also be impairing at certain doses.
The Attorney for Joseph Schawb, who is fighting a DUI under the influence of caffeine, and is charged with driving under the influence of a drug when his blood test showed only caffeine, calls the charge unheard of ‘There are no studies that demonstrate that driving is impaired by caffeine, because no one cares about caffeine,’ said a forensic
‘There are no studies that demonstrate that driving is impaired by
caffeine, because no one cares about caffeine,’ said a forensic
toxicologist. Photograph: Dimitri Vervitsiotis/Getty Images
Caffeine may be the “nootropic” brain drug of choice in Silicon Valley, but
an hour’s drive north in Solano County, California, the stimulant could get
you charged with driving under the influence.
That is according to defense attorney Stacey Barrett, speaking on behalf of
her client, Joseph Schwab.
After being pulled over on 5 August 2015, Schwab was charged by the Solano
County district attorney with misdemeanor driving under the influence of a
Almost 18 months later, Schwab is preparing to go to trial. The only
evidence the DA has provided of his intoxication is a blood test showing
the presence of caffeine.
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
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 Barrett. “I’ve never even heard of it.”
Barrett is fighting a DUI under the influence of caffeine and has filed a defense 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 January 11th.
Sharon Henry, chief deputy district attorney for Solano County, said in a statement that her office was “conducting further investigation in this
“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.
“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. So the defense could be fighting a DUI under the influence of Caffeine under the definition in the law.
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 and is done fighting a DUI under the influence of caffeine. In a statement
provided to the Guardian by his attorney, he said his reputation had been
“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.”