A man in California is fighting a DUI charge of a very unusual kind: the only evidence the DA has provided of his intoxication is a blood test showing the presence of caffeine.
The ordeal began when Joseph Schwab was stopped on August 5, 2015 while driving home from work.
Schwab was not pulled over by police – he was stopped by an agent from the California department of alcoholic beverage control, who was driving an unmarked vehicle.
The agent claimed Schwab cut her off and was driving erratically.
Schwab’s attorney, Stacey Barrett, spoke with The Guardian:
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.”
Schwab was charged by the Solano County district attorney with misdemeanor driving under the influence of a drug.
Barrett has filed a motion for the case to be dismissed because the charges were not brought until June 2016 – nearly 10 months after the incident. If that motion is denied, Schwab will take his case to a jury on January 11.
In a statement, Sharon Henry, chief deputy district attorney for Solano County, said that her office was “conducting further investigation in this matter”:
“The charge of driving under the influence is not based upon the presence of caffeine in his system,” she said.
Barrett told The Guardian that if the prosecution has evidence of another drug in Schwab’s system, they need to provide that information to her:
“I have not been provided with any evidence to support a theory of prosecution for a substance other than caffeine at this time. Nor I have received any statements, reports, etc documenting any ongoing investigation since the [toxicology report] dated 18 November 2015.”
Forensic toxicologist Jeffrey Zehnder, who frequently testifies in court cases, said that in over 41 years, he has never seen a prosecution for driving under the influence of caffeine. “It’s really stupid,” he told The Guardian.
Schwab just wants the ordeal to end:
“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.”
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