Friday, December 30, 2016

Can drinking too much coffee get you a DUI?

“Buzzed driving is drunk driving.” You’ve probably seen that PSA throughout the holiday season. For one man in Solano County, Calif., that almost included a caffeine buzz.

Recently, a story has been going viral claiming a man was pulled over by a California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control officer after nearly hitting the officer and weaving in and out of traffic. After sobriety field tests, the officer found the man “highly agitated, ‘amped up’ and with pupils that were dilated,” according to a Solano County District Attorney press release. The man was arrested for driving under the influence.

Blood tests revealed the man was on a stimulant: caffeine.

In fact, that was the only stimulant the blood test found. Additionally, the man had a blood alcohol content of 0.00. Surely, he was off the hook.

Except he wasn’t.

A deputy district attorney within the DUI unit decided to pursue the DUI charges despite the fact that TWO labs found ZERO traces of drugs other than caffeine. Solano County District Attorney Krishna Abrams told Land Line Now’s Reed Black that the deputy DA felt he could prove without reasonable doubt that the man was driving under the influence.

How?

Alcoholic Beverage Control officers are considered Drug Recognition Experts. Through her training and DRE credentials, the officer was convinced that the man was driving impaired. I’m speculating here, but perhaps the deputy DA felt expert opinion overrides scientific evidence?

Up until a few days ago, the case was still pending. Almost forgot an important detail: This happened in August … of last year! What’s with the delay?

Abrams told Land Line Now that she was unaware of the case until late last week after the media first started reporting on the case. She stated that the county receives about 10,000 cases each year, and in this case two separate labs were used for test results.

After reviewing the case, Abrams decided to drop the DUI charges. Unlike the deputy DA, she found that the county could not prove without reasonable doubt the man was driving impaired.

On Dec. 27, the DA sent out a press release stating the county is still investigating the case. The next day, the DA announced dismissal of DUI charges. Maybe this is coincidental, but this absurd case was in limbo for 16 months before the media picked up on it. Magically, the DUI charges were dropped just days after public outcry following media reports.

Without news media, situations like this go unnoticed, allowing governments to act unjustly and incompetently. The Fourth Estate hard at work.

Even though justice was finally served, I have more questions:
  • Why was this case sitting for nearly a year and a half?
  • What exactly was the deputy DA going to argue if this case continued?
  • What training do ABC officers receive to qualify them as DREs?
  • How much weight does the opinion of a DRE have in the courtroom?
  • How much coffee did this guy drink that day??? 

In August, I wrote a blog about a New Jersey law that could consider drinking coffee a driving distraction. I argued that although the law does not specifically name coffee as a distraction, the ambiguous language could allow an officer to pull someone over for drinking coffee, opening up a rabbit hole for abuse of power. Some people scoffed at that “slippery slope” logic.

Welp, here we are. Four months later I’m writing about a traffic violation based on coffee consumption and the letter of the law.

Sorry about the longwinded rant. I’m jacked on 30 ounces of coffee right now. Can someone drive me home?