Court Rejects Driver’s Robitussin Defense

By serotonin · Jan 9, 2005 ·
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    Court rejects teen driver's Robitussin defense</H1>
    Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
    Friday, January 7, 2005

    If you drink, don't drive -- even if it's only alcohol-based cough syrup you've sipped.

    That was the message Thursday from a state appeals court, which upheld the one-year license suspension of a 16-year-old Novato girl who was pulled over on a freeway and claimed she had imbibed only a capful of Robitussin.

    "A minor can maim or kill if they drank cough syrup or if they drank beer, '' said the Court of Appeal panel in San Francisco, quoting the Marin County trial judge in the case.

    The driver, Karli Ann Bobus, was stopped in November 2002 by a Highway Patrol officer, who said her car was weaving on the freeway. The officer said her eyes were bloodshot and her speech was slurred. Her blood-alcohol level measured 0.022 percent.

    Her license was immediately suspended under a state "zero-tolerance'' law that makes it illegal for anyone under 21 to drive with a blood-alcohol content of 0.01 percent or higher, compared with 0.08 percent for an adult. Those under 21 caught driving with 0.05 percent blood alcohol or above can be cited and fined, in addition to the license suspension.

    At a hearing to challenge her suspension, Bobus said she had been at a party where friends were drinking but she had taken only a capful of cough syrup. The appeals court said that she may not have been telling the truth, in light of the officer's testimony about her appearance and behavior, but all that mattered was her alcohol level, not its source.

    The state Vehicle Code defines an alcoholic beverage as "any liquid ... which contains alcohol.'' That definition includes alcohol-based cough syrup, which can contain as much as 26 percent alcohol, the justices said.

    The court upheld the license suspension in a ruling last month and ordered the ruling published Thursday as a precedent for other cases. Paul Burglin, Bobus' lawyer, said he would appeal to the state Supreme Court.

    "I think the purpose and intent of the zero-tolerance law was reflected in the logo used to advertise it: 'If you booze, you lose,' '' he said. "This isn't a kid who was boozing. It was never intended to punish kids who took a dose of cough medicine and drove.''

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