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Driving Under the Influence of …. Coffee

A man in California was pulled over for “cutting off” an agent of the California Alcohol Beverage Control in August of 2015. That agent developed an opinion, no doubt using his extensive training and experience, that the driver was DUI. He was arrested and taken to jail where he was given a breath test. Problem is, he blew .000. Because the agent couldn’t accept that he was wrong, he asked the driver to submit to a blood test. It came back free of any drugs. Because law enforcement couldn’t accept that the agent was still wrong, it was sent to another lab and tested again. The blood sample was again free of any alcohol or drugs, but positive for caffeine. Because no one in law enforcement could accept that they had been wrong, the Solano County District Attorney proceeded to file a DUI charge against the driver. The story is here. Unbelievable.

Because no one in law enforcement could accept that they had made a mistake, the taxpayers got to pay for litigation leading up to just before a trial was scheduled to take place, before the District Attorney finally dismissed the DUI, 16 months after the driver was originally pulled over. However, the District Attorney still couldn’t admit that the agent or her office had been wrong, and said that blood tests “can’t test for everything” and that the driver might have been under the influence that science hasn’t yet discovered a way to test for yet. Laughable.

The 16 month ordeal for the driver finally ended, at least with regard to the DUI charge. The DA continued to prosecute him for reckless driving. No doubt, it cost the driver a lot of money to defend himself over those 16 months. In addition, for 16 months he had a serious criminal charge hanging over his head and on his criminal record which can prevent people from getting jobs, getting loans, getting places to live, etc. Unbelievable, laughable and, unfortunately, fairly common.

People I talk to about what I do are always surprised when I tell them these stories. I have seen people prosecuted for DUI in Johnson County, Kansas and surrounding areas for being under the influence of nothing other than caffeine, natural supplements like kava, over-the-counter allergy medications and other substances that do not impair a person’s ability to drive a car. I ALWAYS have a DUI case pending in Johnson County for someone who blew well under the legal limit for alcohol, including many clients who blew .05 or .06, or below. By the way, the people that blow half the legal limit, always exhibit the same “clues” that people who blow twice the legal limit allegedly have according to law enforcement – “strong” odor of alcohol, bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, failed field sobriety tests, etc. So, the “sobriety” tests don’t seem to be very good at discriminating between who is over the legal limit in Kansas and who is not.

People charged with DUI, even though they weren’t drunk or impaired by drugs, still have to hire a lawyer and fight these cases if they want to avoid a conviction. Just like the prosecutor in California, the prosecutors here usually won’t dismiss a DUI under these circumstances, if at all, until the very last minute. Cases where people blow under the legal limit or test positive for something like caffeine are actually as much or more work than a traditional DUI case. A lot of people can’t afford a lawyer to fight the charges, and they are scared of the consequences if they lose. It takes a lot of gumption and courage to fight one of these cases and many people, including many lawyers, don’t have it. The government and law enforcement have unlimited resources and nothing to lose. Injustices occur pretty regularly. So, go easy on the coffee out there.


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