September 20th, 2010
01:39 PM ET

Murder defense: Too much caffeine

Can too much caffeine make you insane - and mentally unstable enough to unknowingly kill someone?

That's a question a Newport, Kentucky, jury will have to answer when they eventually deliberate in the trial of a man whose lawyer is expected to claim that too much soda, caffeine-laced diet pills and the energy drink No Fear - combined with sleep deprivation - meant he had no idea what he was doing when he killed his wife.

Woody Will Smith's murder trial begins Monday, and according to the Kentucky Enquirer, Smith's lawyer will argue that the combination of all that caffeine was responsible for the death of his wife.

Amanda Hornsby-Smith was strangled with an extension cord in 2009 - and now Smith is facing life in prison if he is found guilty of murdering his wife in their home.

Defense attorneys are expected to focus on a psychological evaluation conducted by an expert that determined Smith couldn't be criminally responsible for the murder because he was suffering a temporary psychotic disorder based on the lack of sleep and use of amphetamine and caffeine products, the Enquirer reported.

"This dissociative belief and intense paranoid delusions are the direct result of the ingestion of large amounts of caffeine and diet pills,"a psychologist wrote in his report, according to the paper.

The prosecutor is expected to call her own witness, the paper said, who will refute the entire argument.

It's not the first time a caffeine-induced defense has been heard in a courtroom. Last year a Whitman County judge dropped charges against Daniel Noble, who blamed too much caffeine as the reason he lost control of his car and hit someone on the Washington State University-Pullman campus. The accident didn't kill the victim, but did cause nerve damage and several broken bones.

The judge made the ruling after hearing testimony from several medical experts - but Noble also had been diagnosed as bi-polar. However, as part of the ruling, the judge made it a condition that Noble not be allowed to consume caffeine.

soundoff (295 Responses)
  1. RIGHT......

    Let's start taking responsability for our actions....

    September 20, 2010 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Saladin

      Agreed. If alcohol isn't a mitigating factor, stupidity and caffeine aren't either. Enjoy prison, cupcake.

      September 20, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • antipop

      The old Twinkie defense.

      September 20, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • mike

      can caffeine make you mentally unstable – yes
      would you unknowingly do thing from a caffeine high- no
      furthermore the amount of caffeine required to insight such mental instability you'd be on the verge of a heart attack,he knowingly and willingly killed his wife. hope he has a large prison buddy named Bubba

      September 20, 2010 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • RobL

      Well a jury in Kentucky will almost certainly convict, so this is a good reminder to take care of our health.
      Despite the easy medical opinions being tossed around here – you can take a combination of products that will make you insane. And – you can also have mental problems, kill someone, and look for an excuse. Both can happen – a jury will almost always convict.

      But all the people here saying it can't happen – wrong. A doctor once prescribed some diet medicine – and it worked great for several months, and then one night I awoke to thinking I was dying – only I wasn't, it was entirely in my imagination – and I thought it was real.

      Yep, you've never been there, you can't understand it. A friend of mine had a brain tumor – he found out when he started hallucinating one day and ended up going to the hospital.

      Now in both of my examples, we didn't strangle our wives with an extension cord – that's why this guy will fry.
      If you happen to go nutso from chemicals and do something like that – nobody cares.

      Now if a woman kills her husband, thats not even a crime in Kentucky, but the other way around – no....they aren't going to have any leniency.

      September 20, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Martin

      You got it. This whole "temporarily insane" defense has GOT to end, and soon.

      September 20, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dennis

      I deink twenty cups of strong regular coffee each day. I once drank fifty-five cups during a long baseball game. I have never lost my sanity. I know many who drink ten or more each day. Don`t give coffee a bad rap.

      September 20, 2010 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Harvey

      So did he kill his girlfreiend or was it his wife?
      Whoever wrote this article must have had too many M&Ms..

      September 20, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • dave

      ok... was it his wife, or his girlfriend, who writes for the articles are so poorly crafted, going from bad to worse!

      September 20, 2010 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Heather

      Err....this article said a mix of caffiene and Amphetamines....big difference.

      September 20, 2010 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • me

      Wow... next up breathing to much will cause you to break the law too.

      September 20, 2010 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • lorne


      drinking that much coffee each day can't be good for you.

      slow down, relax, and cut back.

      September 20, 2010 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      He actually has a legitimate case. Sleep deprivation, without the use of drugs can cause hallucinations and other forms of mental instability. Mix that in with diet and caffeine pills and one could easily see a situation where a person freaks out and does something like murder. The true test will be his reactions after the murder. Was he in shock? Was he showing remorse? Did he have a solid recollection of what happened? Those are the questions that need to be answered before rushing to judgement.

      September 20, 2010 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Objectionist

      This is stupid. Either way he is responsible. Let's say there was a psychotic brake. He still chose to inject all of that. I hate how in America nobody is responsible for their actions anymore.

      "Oh I drank too much caffiene." Ya know, on that logic people who drink too much alcohol shouldn't be responsible for their actions either. This is ludacris.

      September 20, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ryan

      As a coffee professional and serious coffee drinker I've had more coffee than anyone should consume in one sitting several times throughout my career. The defense team had to have brought up the fact that caffeine doesn't directly effect the body. It causes your adrenal gland to very quickly release all available adrenaline into the bloodstream as well as targeting endorphin receptors. Once the adrenaline is depleted there isn't any more. That's where you get the coffee headache while coming down from extreme doses of caffeine. The adrenal gland is pushing and producing at the same time.

      From "The pituitary gland sees all of this activity and thinks some sort of emergency must be occurring, so it releases hormones that tell the adrenal glands to produce adrenaline (epinephrine). Adrenaline is the "fight or flight" hormone, and it has a number of effects on your body:

      * Your pupils dilate.
      * Your breathing tubes open up (this is why people suffering from severe asthma attacks are sometimes injected with epinephrine).
      * Your heart beats faster.
      * Blood vessels on the surface constrict to slow blood flow from cuts and also to increase blood flow to muscles.
      * Blood pressure rises.
      * Blood flow to the stomach slows.
      * The liver releases sugar into the bloodstream for extra energy.
      * Muscles tighten up, ready for action.

      This explains why, after consuming a big cup of coffee, your hands get cold, your muscles tense up, you feel excited, you can feel your heart beat increasing and you may strangle your wife."

      September 20, 2010 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • neoritter

      Sleep deprivation could be a viable excuse, since it can cause hallucinations.

      September 20, 2010 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sean

      Why waste our money to sent this guy to prison? Kill him!

      I'd spend money for drug addicts or small criminals who may be desparate and help them build their life again... for killers... they go and die!

      September 20, 2010 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Molly

      I agree, we need to take responsibility for our actions, on the other hand I can understand this defense if he's saying it was not premeditated murder. I work nights and sleep during the day, sometimes I run off of 3 hours or less in a 24 hour period. I do notice the least little things set my temper off if I haven't had sleep. Depending on how long he had been without sleep, he very well could have just snapped.

      September 20, 2010 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • MotoJB

      This guy and his lawyer makes me sick...I don't care if he was out of his mind. He got himself there through CHOICES he knowingly and consciously made. He's 100% liable and responsible, pure and simple. How some of these defense lawyers can sleep at night is beyond me.

      September 20, 2010 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • blandford55

      if this were true, then with all the Pepsi's i have drunk, i should have gone ballisitic by now and murdered about 100 people. this is just another "twinkie' defense

      September 20, 2010 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alex A

      We can't start taking responsibility for our actions, if we did then the lawyers and medical experts would all be out of jobs.

      September 20, 2010 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • You are Right

      Agreed......He is responsible for his actions....Well Done!

      September 20, 2010 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Typeo

      I can only imagine what could have happened, if he was coo coo on coco-puffs....

      September 20, 2010 at 9:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • jane

      research... lets get somethign straight here caffeine can make you crazy.. but.... i have only seen it doen with overdosing on medication such as fioricet or Fiorinal... it will make the person insane beyound belief and they don't remember anythign not to mention how they get very angry and abusive without knowing what they are doing.. this is ONLY with the overdose of the medication I am speaking of ...i do not know anything about the levels of it in the specific items this man took.

      September 20, 2010 at 10:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Peter

      @ Dave & Harvey – Your reading comprehension skills are so poor, who taught you people how to use a computer? "girlfriend" doesn't appear anywhere in the article. Maybe if you guys lay off the caffeine and M&M's, you won't see words appearing before your very eyes...

      September 20, 2010 at 10:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bored

      i drink tons of redbull and have never hurt anyone in a caffiene rage,, i wonder where these lawyers get there ideas from, better yet, where the hell are they graduating from??? ive never heard of such a defense before, ridiculous, wow, isisnt pleading insanity alone enough???

      September 20, 2010 at 10:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • ARMYofONE

      Ever get tired of the excuses people can come up with to get away with murder?? Like the leather glove that was soaked and dried up, If the glove don't quit, you gotta acquit!!

      I mean seriously on this one. Alcohol is a drug, caffeine is a drug, marijuana is a drug.....wait no one kills someone on marijuana lol. I mean we try to use all these scape goats cause someone lost control and went to far. MAN did it, own up to what you did and suffer the consequences.

      Whats next, I smoked 10 cigarettes in 5 minutes, the nicotine made me do it?

      We have free will to choose what we do.

      September 20, 2010 at 11:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • kevin

      I don't know about your neighbors, but one of mine sometimes obtains a coffee thing from somewhere and when he brought me some from his last Germany visit, I drank only a little bit of it (you don't have to drink it though) and trust me I wanted to go smash everyone's windshield with a rake! That stuff makes you wild.

      September 20, 2010 at 11:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Carlos

      OMG!!! The Starbucks made be do it. Are you kidding me? This guy will have plenty to keep him awake when "The Sisters" get a hold of him. (That is a Shawshank Redemption reference for those you who haven't seen the movie)

      September 21, 2010 at 2:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Bunny

      Wait a minute, I thought I just read an article on Yahoo that said there is only so much caffeine that the body can absorb and the rest is just....runoff.....Don't see it stickin' they serve energy drinks in prison....that's gonna be one hell of a withdrawal.....a mirage of a mt dew can no doubt.

      September 21, 2010 at 2:51 am | Report abuse |
    • soulcancer

      I feel bad for guys named Bubba. Their only career prospects seem to be as prison butt-rapists, serving some strange, sadistic extra-judicial function with their forced sodomy of inmates. So unless you really want this future for your kid, name him something else.

      September 21, 2010 at 2:52 am | Report abuse |
    • AwesomeBob

      He will probably sell the energy drink company now and win. (face-palm)

      September 21, 2010 at 3:16 am | Report abuse |
    • bsolo

      to saladin – alcohol has been used as a defense in many cases, including homicide, to narrow a case to move it from first to second degree murder. Check out Midgett v. State if you're interested to see how drunken, deranged states of mind can move a case from premeditation/deliberation to "heat of the moment" mental states prior to the act committed, and therefore create second degree murder cases.

      September 21, 2010 at 3:25 am | Report abuse |
    • Jennifer C.

      Personal responsibility? That is so 1950s.

      September 21, 2010 at 5:47 am | Report abuse |
    • 2+2=5

      Responsibility for our actions, right, what a joke. Our kids are so screwed up these days its not even funny, forget about it. When an entire half of a country can do what they did and not be responsible, why not the kids?! great examples we set. So, that is a joke to me. A funny one at that. Just going to get worse so sit back, grab some popcorn, and watch how dumb we are. Now for the most misunderstood question of all time, do you really have to be insane to kill someone? nope, just really stupid and full of lifetime failures. But watch enough T.V. and you'll keep thinking that. Take more pills. Keep up the great work.

      September 21, 2010 at 6:44 am | Report abuse |
    • rich h

      How is caffeine abuse different from alchol abuse. Drunk drivers are guilty why shouldn't caffeine abuser be guilty?

      September 21, 2010 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
  2. Sheesh

    Next it's going to be, "I had too many M&M's"

    September 20, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • PenSeive

      Is there really such a thing as too many M&M's? (Assuming, of course, that they don't contain excessive amounts of caffeine . . . )

      September 20, 2010 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Martin

      As the prosecutor, I would counter with "have you tried switching to skittles? Taste the Rainbow!"

      September 20, 2010 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff

      google the twinkie defense

      September 20, 2010 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kraznodar

      Yes Sheesh, there is such a thing as too many M&Ms. Try eating 10 pounds of M&Ms in 1 day. The next day you won't leave the bathroom.

      September 20, 2010 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Charlotte

      yeah, they already went down that road with the Twinkies about 20 years ago.

      September 20, 2010 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • ARMYofONE

      Once he is in Prison do we limit him to Decaf??

      September 20, 2010 at 11:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • NotreDameGirl

      M&Ms are addictive!

      September 21, 2010 at 2:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Rbnlegnd101

      There is so much misinformation around these things. The famous twinkie defense never said that the crime was committed because the defendant ate too many twinkies. The defense was arguing that the defendant was suffering clinical depression, and pointed to a set of behavioral changes to demonstrate that, including a change from healthy eating habits to junk foods like twinkies and soda. Depression was a lousy excuse too, but the twinkies were brought up to show that his thinking was affected by the depression, not as the cause for the change in thinking.

      What happens in a court case is part of a larger picture, and any element, out of context, ends up sounding like nonsense. Court cases take a long time for a reason. If he was habituated to caffine, stimulants, and sleep aids, and was actually sleep deprived, he may not have been in control of his actions. That doesn't justify what he did, but it does change how the case is handled in our legal system. It's strange that if you commit a felony while not in control of your actions, that mitigates the consequenses, but in traffic court, if you are not in control of your actions for the same sort of reason, your actions may then be considered as a felony. Kill someone with a hammer while drunk and stoned, it's reduced from 1st degree murder to something lesser. Kill someone with your car, and it's a traffic offense not eligible for jail time, unless you were drunk or stoned.

      September 21, 2010 at 9:07 am | Report abuse |
  3. tom

    this is great. only a KY redneck hick and his atty would offer this as his defense

    September 20, 2010 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • malcat

      Sorry...if you actually read the story you would have found the following: " It's not the first time a caffeine-induced defense has been heard in a courtroom. Last year a Whitman County judge dropped charges against Daniel Noble, who blamed too much caffeine as the reason he lost control of his car and hit someone on the Washington State University-Pullman campus." Thus proving just how dangerous a legal precedent can be.

      September 20, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Martin

      I c an DEFINITELY see KY in this guy's future, and I'm not talking Kentucky!

      September 20, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • lorne

      of course if you ever did something seriously criminal and you happened to be on some drug that had certain side effects, you would instruct your lawyer not to use that in your defence. Right!

      September 20, 2010 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Chaz

    I think a Judge should be able to step in at some point and disallow stuff like this. Don't waste tax payer money on guilty stupid people.

    September 20, 2010 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • RobL

      disallow a person from putting on a defense? I have to say I disagree. It might be so 'ultra cheap' to not have defenses any more, but it's actually an important part of a free society to allow people to put on a defense. Now, he may very well go to jail, but that doesn't mean allowing the legal system to work was a bad idea – I hope you can see some merit in not simply escorting all accused directly to jail for life – and take it just a wee bit more seriously.

      September 20, 2010 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Martin

      He's not saying to disallow this guy to mount a defense, but it's definitely time to end the "temporarily insane" defense option.

      September 20, 2010 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Patrick

      Judges do have the ability to deny items from being entered as evidence or to refuse to allow a piece of evidence from being considered, however that normally results in issues during appeal for the state and can result in convictions being thrown out. It's better to be too thorough when considering an argument or defense instead of risking the outcome of the trial. In the long run it's cheaper that way and cases don't end up rising through the system for a possible retrial. Just imagine what our system would be like if every question of evidence or procedure was brought up to the SCOTUS.

      September 20, 2010 at 9:13 pm | Report abuse |
  5. asdf

    Just look at this loser. Anybody else surprised to hear he was from Kentucky (home of the Puritan fight against internet gambling though their state lives on horse gambling)?

    September 20, 2010 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • asdf

      horse gambling and kentucky bourbon but they they good sin free Christians down there :P.

      September 20, 2010 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • malcat

      The fight against internet gambling has nothing to do with the Puritans. It's all about revenue. KY wants to tax any winnings...pure and simple.

      September 20, 2010 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Cranberry

    Great, he had too much caffeine. And who is responsible for that? He is! If you drink too much alcohol and kill someone, you are still responsbile. How is caffeine any different? 'Nuff said.

    September 20, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lynne

      Just yet another lame excuse! It seems none of us are responsible for any of our actions anymore. If you drink too much alcohol, drink and drive, kill someone, you are tried and blamed. You take too much caffeine, sorry buddy no excuse. Get ready for a long, long stretch in the slammer!

      September 20, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • JBaum

      Actually – If you have too many drinks and kill someone, you can usually pin it on the Bartender or the location in which you consumed the alcohol (At least in Canada it's this way). Pretty sad thing, one of the many reasons I won't work in a bar. What I don't get is that these legal drugs (Alcohol, caffeine, oxycotin etc) are LEGAL and they cause this much dispair. Was he on a caffiene high – probably – should he get out of it because of it – no....but there are bigger issues here about what substances are legal and which aren't. The FDA approves so many additives in our food, but they are legal so it's ok. Yet there are illegal substances that have a great benefit (Even in the non-smoking form – that doesn't get you high) and they are illegal. Makes me shake my head.

      September 20, 2010 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kat

      Agreed. And might I add this article was poorly written. As far as I know, he killed his girlfriend and wife but the wife was more important as she was mentioned more.

      September 20, 2010 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
  7. whatnext

    I drink several cups a day. I guess I could base a defense on not having had my first cup yet.

    September 20, 2010 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • malcat

      Now that I would consider a valid defense.

      September 20, 2010 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Leo Valaunt

      high five

      September 20, 2010 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  8. miah

    This is the "twinkie defense" all over again, an idiot justifying first degree murder with a completely legal substance. Absolutely ridiculous

    September 20, 2010 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Billy

      Just because something is legal doesn't mean it's good for you. I used to drink a lot of caffeine as well. Granted I never felt like killing someone (usually), but it contributed to me developing a heart condition. Also when I was 13, I ate 5 no-doz caffeine piils (purchased legally from a grocery story) and had to be rushed to the emergency room. Caffeine is a very dangerous substance.

      September 20, 2010 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rbnlegnd101

      Google the twinkie defense. It wasn't what you think it was. The media grabbed one sentence out of a long court case and took it out of context. The defense in that case was clinical depression, not twinkies.

      September 21, 2010 at 9:12 am | Report abuse |
  9. Katie

    This is stupid – but I gotta admit, caffeine can be dangerous, I don't think he was so blitzed on it that he killed his wife because of it, but if he'd been driving or something like that, it would have impaired his judgement – I can see this as a better defense for assault than murder.

    September 20, 2010 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Daibhidh

    If this type of action can occur with too much caffeine – why are there people still alive in Seattle?

    September 20, 2010 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Suz

      As a Seattle resident and avid coffee drinker, I think we are immune to it's effects. I could have an espresso I.V. in my arm and feel nothing. A triple latte at 10:00 at night helps me sleep like a baby. This jack-ass has no case.

      September 20, 2010 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • NotreDameGirl

      Seattle is beautiful along with it's coffee!

      September 21, 2010 at 2:28 am | Report abuse |
  11. bullet

    Give him a coke then lock his ass up

    September 20, 2010 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
  12. MikeofLA

    So, if being high on Meth, Cocaine, Alcohol or any myriad of other drugs does not excuse some one from murder then there is no way sleep deprivation and caffeine can.
    I can understand, like Katie said, that this may have heightened his emotions, but at no point was he "insane".

    September 20, 2010 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kraznodar

      If someone else forcibly deprived him of sleep and force fed him the "energy" drinks then he may have a defence but I bet he chose to do it to himself. That makes him guilty.

      September 20, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  13. genuis

    second paragraph he killed his girlfriend...then the third he killed his wife? Proof Read People!

    September 20, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
  14. historian

    This case might have some traction in Salt Lake City.

    September 20, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  15. doc

    the twinkie defense? how does that work? i was considering murder, but only if i can do it by mashing enough twinkies down her pie-hole, is that a viable defense? (no... really, i was helping her eat those twinkies your honor) if i have to eat them myself it just wont work for me

    ok, heres the disclaimer, you left wing nutjobs can stand down, its a joke, ok?

    September 20, 2010 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • disgusted

      The problem is-jokes are supposed to be funny. You were TRYING to be funny, but got hung up around retarded instead. Keep workin' on it though, I'm sure somewhere in the whole "assaulting a woman by shoving Twinkies down her "pie-hole"" is a gem of a joke, you just stopped digging too soon....

      September 20, 2010 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
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