Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, October 22, 2001


Page 3


Driving Under Influence of Kava Violates Vehicle Code, Court Rules


By a MetNews Staff Writer


The fact that the drink known as kava is not named in the Vehicle Code as a drug does not mean someone driving under its influence is not subject to prosecution and conviction, an appeals panel has ruled.

In a ruling from the San Mateo Superior Court’s Appellate Division, filed in July but published Friday after the First District Court of Appeal denied transfer, the court denied the appeal of driver Sione Olive, who challenged a conviction under Vehicle Code Sec. 23152.

Olive was stopped by California Highway Patrol officers while driving on Highway 101 at 1:20 a.m. on June 17, 2000. Given field sobriety tests, he had trouble keeping his balance. He denied consuming any alcohol, and a preliminary alcohol screening showed no alcohol in his blood.

But he acknowledged drinking 23 cups of kava, a beverage commonly consumed by Pacific Islanders and increasingly popular in the United States.

The drink is made from the root of a plant of the same name. The root is ground to a brown powder, which is mixed with water and consumed immediately.

Health food stores also sell kava root extract in capsule form.

Kava aficionados say the drink imparts a sense of well-being. It is often taken to reduce stress.

Olive alleged that the statute against driving while under the influence of a drug was overly broad and void for vagueness and that application to him deprived him of due process. He lost his bid to dismiss charges and to exclude his urine test from evidence.

In his opinion for the Appellate Division, Judge Quentin Kopp noted that “drug” as used in the Vehicle Code is defined as something other than alcohol that could “affect the nervous system, brain of muscles” in such a way as to impair a person’s ability to drive as an ordinary and prudent person using reasonable care would drive a vehicle under like conditions.

“It describes conduct; it does not purport to identify particular drugs, and it is not required constitutionally in this case to do so,” Kopp said.

The case is People v. Olive, 01 S.O.S. 5038.


Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company