Can You Get a DUI From Drinking Too Much Caffeine?

Driving under the influence (DUI) is probably one of the most common offenses most drivers make. By influence, we refer to any intoxicating substance such as alcohol, nicotine, marijuana, etcetera.

However, many seem to wonder if caffeine falls under this category, especially after the widely publicized case of a California man who, in 2015, was issued a DUI for driving erratically and later testing positive for caffeine in a blood test.

Have you been wondering if you can receive a DUI while driving with caffeine in your body system? This article explains the conditions that may lead to a caffeine DUI conviction and if indeed ingesting caffeine can lead to driving while impaired (DWI).

We shall also discuss the example cited above, showing reasons why the man in question got charged with DUI. Let’s dig in!

What Is a DUI Charge?

DUI is short for “driving under the influence,” an occurrence that’s becoming very common in the United States. Therefore, a DUI charge is a criminal charge that indicts the receiver of the above offense and is punishable by law, with offenders receiving sentences of two months to one year.

The punishment can be even more severe, especially when it involves the death of a person. For offenders who have previously received DUI charges, the penalties are severe. However, first-time offenders usually get short sentences with added weeks of probation and community service.

In many cases, if not all, it might lead to the offender’s driver’s license revocation until the probation period is over and the offender fulfills all requirements/stipulations given by the court.

With regards to alcohol, DUI is defined by the alcohol-in-blood limit set by most states which is usually 0.08% of blood alcohol content. Now, the main question remains, can you get a DUI charge for taking too much caffeine? Keep reading!

Getting a DUI Caffeine Charge: A Case Study of Joseph Schwab 

At the start of the article, we mentioned an uncommon occasion where a man was arrested and charged with a DUI after a blood test showed that he had a significant amount of caffeine in his blood. Now, while this story is true it’s incomplete.

The man, Joseph Schwab, was pulled over in Fairfield in August 2015 while driving home from work by an officer in an unmarked vehicle from the department of alcoholic beverage control in California.

The agent said Joseph Schwab was driving in an erratic manner and cut her off at a traffic stop. A statement from the district attorney’s office showed that the officer’s suspicion was raised due to Schwab’s “reckless driving,” plus his performance and demeanor on some field sobriety tests.

After Schwab was arrested for reckless driving while impaired, he was subjected to a breathalyzer test which showed his blood alcohol concentration was 0.00% and there was no presence of any intoxicating substance. Still, he was booked into the Solano County jail and had his blood drawn for a blood test.

However, the resulting toxicology report was negative for tested drugs, including carisoprodol (a muscle relaxant), oxycodone, benzodiazepines, opiates, zolpidem, cocaine, THC, and methamphetamine/MDMA.

Unsatisfied with the lab results, the Solano County district attorney’s office requested another test in a different laboratory. The subsequent lab test came out positive for only one thing: caffeine, which doesn’t warrant a DUI.

Although the test results showed no alcohol or drug in the man’s system, the District Attorney Office’s DUI unit filed for a DUI case citing intoxication as the reason for the reckless driving even though illegal drugs and substances didn’t appear on the tests.

After many news outlets carried the headline that Schwab was arrested for DUI due to driving under the influence of caffeine, Solano County’s chief deputy district attorney had to clarify that the DUI charge wasn’t due to the presence of caffeine in Schwab’s system. She also said that her office was handling the ongoing investigation into the case.

The onus was on them to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the offender was driving under the influence. Upon further investigation and for over a year of back-to-back court sessions, the prosecutor eventually dropped the charges due to a lack of substantial evidence.

A young man finishing up his soda to drive home

Why Driving Under the Influence of Caffeine Can Lead to a DUI Charge

Now, while the above example rules out caffeine as the cause of intoxication, some experts opine that consuming energy drinks containing high amounts of, or only caffeine, can result in positive results on field sobriety tests and breathalyzer tests. This type of situation will eventually lead to a DUI charge, especially if the officer notices erratic driving or impaired driving.

Let’s assume you attended a friend’s engagement party where you take a shot of tequila and a glass of Rosé wine – not much, you say. However, just so you stay alert while driving, you down some energy drinks. Again, not a problem, or is it?

Well, the answer to that question can’t be yes or no, as different factors will determine if you get flagged down by a police officer or not. These factors include the drink’s alcoholic percentage, the amount of caffeine per gram in the substance, your weight, level of tiredness, medications, etcetera.

Though caffeine is a potent naturally occurring stimulant, its characteristics and biochemistry greatly resemble those of Heroin, cocaine, and amphetamines when ingested in a large quantity. Hence, drinking coffee or taking energy drinks in large quantities before driving to stay alert may result in a caffeine-induced mania that the police can misconstrue as driving under the influence.

However, studies have shown that caffeine has no impairing effect on a driver’s capabilities. Nevertheless, significant amounts of caffeine from an energy drink will trigger a false positive result on a breath test or field sobriety test.

Besides the biochemical similarities between caffeine and illegal substances like Heroin, another reason for a positive confirmatory test is the presence of ethanol in minute quantities in some energy drinks.

What to Do If a Cop Pulled You Over for Caffeine DUI

Are you planning to consume anything containing caffeine before driving, such as multiple cups of soda or coffee or an energy drink? There are things you can do to protect yourself from a DUI arrest. For example, suppose you consumed a soda or energy drink, it’d be best to wait for at least 15 minutes before operating any motor vehicle.

That way, you reduce the risk of any false positive result from a breathalyzer test. Suppose you’re driving erratically due to too much caffeine in your system and get pulled over; it’d be unwise to consent to a field sobriety test.

Most states, including California, makes taking field sobriety tests voluntary, so don’t allow any officer to coerce you into taking them. Don’t forget to check if the exercises are mandatory or voluntary in your state to avoid getting into trouble by resisting them.

Naturally, field sobriety exercises are highly unreliable and could give a false result due to many factors. Some of these factors include physiological symptoms that don’t correlate with drugs and alcohol, like weight, age, athletic ability, caffeine, etcetera.

Final Words

DUI is a serious criminal offense in all states, although some states like California take the issue more seriously than others. According to California’s DUI laws, drugs cover everything capable of causing impairment except alcohol. Thus, it’s a little too easy to fall into a DUI trap.

However, just because the state’s definition of a drug is broad doesn’t mean you can be arrested for DUI for ingesting something the FDA has termed safe, such as caffeine.

Suppose you got arrested, so many factors could have contributed to that, including a false BAC test, an inexperienced operator administering the test, or the breathalyzer having a mechanical error. Regardless of the cause, the best thing is to contact a DUI defense attorney immediately.

Most law offices offer a free consultation to enable them to hear your case first; thus, it’d be best to use this opportunity to ensure the attorney you intend to hire is highly experienced and knowledgeable.

Have you been charged with DUI for whatever reason? You’ll need the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney from a reputable law firm. Contact us today for your drunk driving charge, and we will quickly work towards getting the case dismissed.