Can You Be Charged with DUI for Driving Under the Influence of Caffeine?

On August 5, 2015, California resident Joseph Schwab was driving home when he was pulled over for driving erratically.[1] He was given a Breathalyzer test by a California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control agent, which showed a 0.00% blood alcohol level.[2] Nevertheless, Schwab was arrested and sent to Solano County Jail for a blood test to see if he had taken any drugs.[3] The resulting toxicology report came back negative for benzodiazepines, cocaine, opiates, THC, carisoprodol (a muscle relaxant), methamphetamine/MDMA, oxycodone, and zolpidem.[4] After a Pennsylvania laboratory screened the sample for the second time, there was a positive result—for caffeine.[5]

Some 10 months after the arrest, Solano County District Attorney Sharon Henry charged Schwab with a violation of California Vehicle Code §§23152(e) and 23103, for driving under the influence of a drug and for reckless driving.[7] Vehicle Code §23152(e)[7] states that “[i]t is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any drug to drive a vehicle,” and Vehicle Code §312 clarifies that “[t]he term ‘drug’ means any substance or combination of substances, other than alcohol, which could so affect the nervous system, brain, or muscles of a person as to impair, to an appreciable degree, his ability to drive a vehicle in a manner that an ordinary prudent and cautious man, in full possession of his faculties, using reasonable care, would drive similar vehicle under like conditions.”[8] Schwab’s attorney, Stacey Barrett, filed a motion to dismiss the case.[9] “I’ve never seen this before,” said Barrett, “I’ve never even heard of it.”[10] Schwab was supposed to go to trial on January 11, 2017.[11]

On December 28, 2016,  the Office of the Solano County District Attorney issued two press releases.[12] The first one, possibly made in response to the extensive news coverage of Schwab’s DUI charge and the underlying story days earlier, denied the claims that the charge had anything to do with caffeine.[13] It described how the officer arrested Schwab, observing him to be highly agitated, “amped up,” with dilated pupils, and having a number of work out supplements in his vehicle.[14] The press release ended with a statement that the District Attorney’s Office is continuing to investigate the case by consulting with experts to determine what substance contributed to the defendant’s impaired driving.[15] The second press release, titled “People v. Joseph Schwab Was Never About Caffeine,” however, went on to state that the charge of being under the influence of a drug that impaired the ability to drive a car safely has been dropped.[16] Without a confirmatory test of the specific drug in the defendant’s system that impaired his ability to drive, the case presented “some challenges,” and there was no belief that the charge could be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.[17] Thus, Schwab would only have to face the charge of reckless driving.


[1] Julia Carrie Wong, California Man Fights DUI Charge for Driving Under Influence of Caffeine, The Guardian, Dec. 24, 2016.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] See id.; Press Release, Office of the District Attorney, Solano Country, People v. Joseph Schwab, Dec. 28, 2016.

[7] Currently, after an amendment, the corresponding section is 23152(f). Cal. Veh. Code §23152.

[8] Press Release, People v. Joseph Schwab.

[9] Wong, California Man Fights DUI Charge for Driving Under Influence of Caffeine.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Press Release, People v. Joseph Schwab; Press Release, Office of the District Attorney, Solano Country, People v. Joseph Schwab Was Never About Caffeine, Dec. 28, 2016.

[13] Press Release, People v. Joseph Schwab.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Press Release, People v. Joseph Schwab Was Never About Caffeine.

[17] Id.