Given that some people have been demanding warning labels on soft drinks on the theory that people don’t know sugar can make you fat, I assume there will now be a similar call for warnings on energy drinks. Not about fatness, but rather because they might make you kill family members.
Those people would be able to cite the case of Stephen Coffeen, who confessed to killing his father in 2009, and is now asserting an insanity defense based at least in part on the argument that a “combination of Red Bull and exhaustion” led to a psychotic breakdown. Coffeen apparently acted very strangely when police arrived (not that he had been acting normally before that), so there is likely more to the plea than a claimed overconsumption of Red Bull. Coffeen’s attorneys seemed to concede that Red Bull is in the mix but not the whole story.
The state’s experts reportedly agree that Coffeen was legally insane at the time of the crime (meaning, in Florida, that he didn’t know what he was doing was criminal), though it seems doubtful that Red Bull has anything to do with their view. That view is still a little puzzling because, initially, Coffeen claimed self-defense, which is an odd thing to claim if you don’t think you’ve done anything wrong. None of the reports I’ve seen mention any specific mental disorder Coffeen allegedly has. But because of the state’s agreement, Coffeen is likely to be treated at a state mental hospital and then released.
Coffeen’s brother Tom is not too keen on this, saying he would be afraid for his own safety if his brother were released. What does he think of the Red Bull factor? “It’s crap,” he said. “I don’t think the man even drank Red Bull.” It’s possible, though, that he had a secret Red Bull habit. Addicts often keep these kinds of things a secret.
This is at least the third time a caffeine/exhaustion defense has been tried, and would be the second success. Defendants were 1-1 with it last year. An Idaho man escaped vehicular-assault charges partly because he argued lack of sleep and “two large coffees” caused him to run two people over. He did have a form of bipolar disorder as well, though. Later that year, a similar defense was floated in a Kentucky murder case, although ultimately that defendant did not argue the caffeine defense at trial. He may regret that now, since he was convicted by a jury that deliberated for just 90 minutes, and that probably included time to eat dinner.
Coffeen’s fate (and possibly his brother’s) will be decided at a hearing on February 17.
Link: Forbes.com (where this originally appeared)