Florida court cites alcohol as 'drug' while blocking license reinstatement

In a case that focused heavily on whether alcohol should be considered a drug, an appeals court Wednesday backed a decision by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to deny reinstatement of a driver’s license to a man who had been convicted of DUI manslaughter.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal overturned a decision by a Manatee County circuit judge, who ruled against the department in the reinstatement request by Richard Alan Chakrin.

Chakrin was released from prison in 2014 after a DUI manslaughter conviction and, as allowed under state law, sought reinstatement of his driver’s license after a five-year period, according to the appeals court decision. Part of state law required him to be “drug-free” for at least five years before a hearing on the proposed license reinstatement.

Chakrin said during a 2019 hearing that he drank a beer about a week before the hearing, leading to a department hearing officer denying the reinstatement.

The circuit judge, however, ruled that the requirement of being drug-free could not be interpreted as including alcohol.

But in a 20-page decision Wednesday, the appeals court said the circuit judge did not properly follow legal precedents about whether alcohol is included in the term “drug-free.” It also rejected contentions that the definition of drug is so broad that it could include the use of substances such as aspirin and caffeine.

“(While) the term ‘drug’ alone may also include aspirin (a medicine) used to restore a body to pain-free condition or treat a medical issue or caffeine (another substance) contained in a morning cup of coffee, the examination of the term ‘drug-free’ as used in this statute is more limited to ingested substances that are of a burdensome effect on the body,” said Wednesday’s decision, written by Associate Senior Judge James R. Case and joined by Judges Patricia Kelly and Anthony Black.