Caffeine defense

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I like my coffee. I like my Pepsi. And as a result, I apparently have a mental disorder.

Well, perhaps some background is appropriate.

A Kentucky man goes on trial this week for strangling his wife. His defense strategy is that he suffered temporary insanity because of excessive consumption of caffeine.

Don't laugh. It worked once before in a Washington state case where a driver struck two pedestrians following sleepless nights and heavy consumption of coffee.

Woody Will Smith plans to tell the jury that he was in a "daze" and remembers little of the fateful day when he strangled his wife. His lawyer plans to present evidence of massive soda consumption along with energy drinks and diet pills. Combined, the defense claims, Smith consumed more than 400 milligrams of caffeine and that was enough to put him in a stupor that resulted in the murder.

To bolster their case, the defense will cite a study by the American Psychiatric Association that claims the standard criteria for mental disorder classification is a consumption of 300 milligrams daily. They call that consumption level an overdose. That means about three stout cups of coffee a day put us in the overdose category.

Well, that clears up several questions I've had lately. I consume far in excess of that feeble amount of caffeine, though energy drinks and diet pills are not on my menu.

Many of you will remember the Twinkie defense from a few years back. A woman claimed excessive consumption of Twinkies caused some mysterious imbalance which resulted in a crime. The defense failed, but you have to give someone points for creativity.

One study says the issue of "caffeine intoxication" is possible given substantial intake of sodas, coffee, etc. and the result is nervousness, excitement, insomnia and rambling speech. It doesn't mention murder.

The problem obviously with the caffeine defense is that far too many of us are guilty of equal consumption of similar products. That normally doesn't lead to murder. It may not be healthy but it's a stretch to say it's lethal.

This story is just an illustration of a much larger issue when it comes to responsibility. We live in a blameless society where nothing is our fault. We point that familiar finger of blame at someone else or something else.

I suspect that Woody Will Smith will not prevail with his unique defense and will spend the remainder of his life in prison. The problem, however, is obvious. Prisons, too, have caffeine products available.

What's Woody to do?

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