Someone sent me the article below recently relating to someone in California being arrested for a Driving Under the Influence charge, allegedly only for having too much caffeine in their system. I find this particularly relevant to discuss, especially when considering how I sometimes explain the relevant DWI law to individuals and clients who are unfamiliar with our system. Simply put, it is not illegal to drink and drive. However, it is illegal to drive while INTOXICATED.
Intoxication in Texas is defined under Chapter 49.01(2) of the Texas Penal Code as the following: "Intoxicated" means:
(A) not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties by reason of the introduction of alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, a dangerous drug, a combination of two or more of those substances, or any other substance into the body; or
(B) having an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more.
The law of intoxication is entirely subjective when you read and analyze it. The State can prove intoxication in one of three ways, as noted above. The first two ways, under Texas law, is the loss of the “normal use” of mental and/or physical faculties “by reason of the introduction of alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, a dangerous drug, a combination of two or more of those substances, OR ANY OTHER SUBSTANCE INTO THE BODY.”
How can one determine what “normal use” is? Are you more “normal” in the morning? In the evening? How about after a long day of work? I have long told clients that technically, under the law, one can be charged in Texas with a DWI for having too much Red Bull at work, and when operating their motor vehicle on the way home – if that substance results in the impairment of the “normal” use” of physical and/or mental faculties, they could possibly be arrested for Driving While Intoxicated. Not only is the law of intoxication entirely subject ("loss of normal use", but it is incredibly broad and encompassing. The last portion of intoxication is perhaps the one that could be the most widely construed by a police officer who decides to investigate a driver for DWI – “by reason of…ANY OTHER SUBSTANCE INTO THE BODY.”
What substance are they referring to? Any substance? Or just illegal ones? Or ones that cause intoxication or impairment? What about gatorade if one drinks too much of it and gets a sugar rush? Vitamin water? A protein shake?
How about coffee? Obviously coffee would be enough, as evidenced by the story below. If one consumes enough caffeine for one to lose the normal use of their mental/physical faculties due to its effect…in theory, it would be enough for a police officer to make an arrest for DWI based on "Probable Cause" - which is much lower, and gives investigating police officer much more leeway, than the standard juries use of "Beyond A Reasonable Doubt." Whether they can prove it in court, given the loftier burden of proof, is another subject altogether for another article, however…read below on the facts mentioned in this article, and what I find particularly fascinated, is the response by the DA at the end of the article...it is precisely what I have written above, in DA language, of course...
Contents of article below (in case the URL at some point ine future does not work):
California man to fight DUI charge after test results only show traces of caffeine
Published December 26, 2016
A California man is reportedly prepared to fight a misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence after he was pulled over in 2015 and a blood test only showed traces of caffeine in his system. According to The Guardian, Joseph Schwab was allegedly driving erratically and cut off an officer from the California department of alcoholic beverage control in August 2015 in Solano Country. Schwab’s attorney Stacey Barrett told the paper that he was given a breathalyzer test which showed that his blood-alcohol content level was at zero percent. A toxicology test also came back negative for drugs. Schwab was booked into county jail. A Pennsylvania lab that conducted a secondary test provided documents to The Guardian that showed the only thing in Schwab’s system was caffeine. Schwab’s motion to get the case dismissed was denied and now he’s scheduled for a court fight. Solano County deputy district attorney Sharon Henry said the department was still investigating. “The charge of driving under the influence is not based upon the presence of caffeine in his system,” Henry said in a statement.