During an afternoon in August 2015 after a long day on the job, Joseph Schwab, 36, was heading home to Fairfield when an Alcohol Beverage Control agent pulled him over on I-680 near Gold Hill Road.
Agent Ott described seeing him “weaving in and out of traffic almost causing several collisions.” More seriously, she also believed he was under the influence of a drug.
“I was 100 percent confident that I was not under the influence of anything,” Schwab said.
Inside the car, Ott said she found a number of workout supplements, including powders. All of them were legal.
She conducted several field sobriety tests and found Schwab’s pupils were dilated.
“The driver seemed very amped up, very agitated, very combative, and she thought he was under the influence of something,” Solano County District Attorney Krishna Abrams said.
Ott arrested Schwab and took him to jail, where he agreed to a blood test. The results came back negative for cocaine, THC, opiates, methamphetamine, oxycodone and several other drugs.
However, there was one positive hit, caffeine.
“I didn’t believe it,” said Stacy Barrett, Schwab’s attorney. “I actually consulted with the other attorneys in my office, to make sure that I wasn’t missing something.”
Independent forensic toxicologist Edwin Smith said caffeine is technically a drug but is often overlooked because it isn’t typically associated with impaired driving.
Smith believes, if anything, the substance improves the ability of most drivers.
“Very few, if any of those are having problems functioning in a task like driving,” Smith said. “Most are probably doing it as well, and potentially even better than they would do without it.”
The district attorney is still moving forward with the DUI charge. She believes it was not caffeine, but some other drug not on the test that influenced Schwab. She admitted that a conviction won’t be easy.
“This is a case without a blood result, so it makes it a very difficult challenge to prove in court,” Abrams said.
Now 16 months later, the arrest is still hurting Schwab both financially and professionally.
“It looked like I was undependable and when you tell this kind of story to someone they naturally are not going to believe it,” Schwab said.
He and his attorney have filed a motion asking for the charges to be dismissed, insisting that driving while under the influence of caffeine is not a crime.
“I certainly hope that this isn’t something that other drivers have to be concerned about,” Barrett said.