In Solano County, California, a man faced DUI (driving under the influence) charges where his blood test only showed the presence of caffeine. According to the officer, the man was initially pulled over for weaving all over the road and almost causing several collisions. Based on the man’s agitated state and dilated pupils, he was arrested for a suspected driving under the influence of a drug. However, the chemical test only revealed that the man had caffeine in his system. The prosecutor, in proceeding with the charges, believed that some other, undetectable drug, was causing the perceived impairment.
My first reaction to this? I don’t see how the Solano County District Attorney’s Office was acting in good faith by continuing its prosecution. Aside from it’s general suspicion, it could not prove that some other drug was causing the man’s impairment while driving, since by its own admission, the “mystery drug” was undetectable. We sometimes have head-scratcher charges in San Diego County, but I have never seen anything like this. Fortunately, according to an UPDATE, the charges were dropped sixteen months after the arrest.
So what does a prosecutor have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt in order to obtain a DUI conviction in California?
California Vehicle Code 23152 is our statute (23152 VC). Subsections (a) and (b) of VC 23152 deal with alcohol consumption. The applicable subsection in this scenario is (e) which states: “It is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of a drug to drive a vehicle.” We most commonly see this subsection charged when someone is impaired by marijuana, methamphetamine, or even prescription pills. Even if the drug is legal, you cannot drive a motor vehicle if it impairs your ability to operate that vehicle safely.
In the referenced article, the only detectable drug was caffeine. A toxicologist opined (commonsensically) that caffeine would cause someone to concentrate more, not cause impairment in reaction time, perception lag, etc.
Not really sure what’s going on in Solano County, but I’m glad they came to their senses and ultimately dismissed the case.