Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you now know that Tiger Woods was arrested for DUI (Driving Under The Influence) in South Florida this Memorial Day weekend. Many in the “court of public opinion” have been speculating about the case. The on-air “talking heads” have been at it and many are getting it wrong. Since I’ve practiced criminal work in Florida for 25 years both as a defense attorney and a prosecutor, having handled thousands of DUI cases, I feel compelled to set the record straight. Also, as a fellow “talking head” with extensive experience defending and prosecuting these types of cases in South Florida, I’d like to give you my assessment as to how I think Tiger’s matter will be resolved.
The arrest report, authored by a police officer from the Jupiter Police Department, alleges that Woods was discovered by a police officer at 2 am behind his 2015 Mercedes Benz, asleep with the engine running. Also, his vehicle’s brake lights were illuminated and his right turn signal was flashing. His vehicle was allegedly pulled over on the side of the road. Furthermore, officers claim that they observed fresh damage to the side of his door as well as damage to both tire rims on the driver’s side. The front and rear tires on the driver’s side of the car were allegedly flat. Police also observed damage to the bumper on the driver’s side, white scrapes and scuffs on the rear bumper, and the passenger side rear taillight was not working.
Woods, who had to be woken up by law enforcement, allegedly had slurred speech and appeared to be confused. Additionally, police claim he said that he had “difficulty speaking” and “didn’t know where he was.” Although he initially told police he was coming from golfing in Los Angeles, he later stated that he didn’t know where he was. He allegedly changed his story and inquired of police how far he was from his house.
He told police that he hadn’t been drinking. A breath test backed that up (blood-alcohol test showed 0.00%). Officers claimed he failed the roadside sobriety exercises by not being able to stand on one leg or properly walk a straight line. Woods admitted that he “takes several prescriptions” and that he had “an unexpected reaction to prescribed medications.” He provided a urine sample. When the results come back in several weeks. we should know precisely which drugs were in his system.
In a statement that Woods put out after his arrest, he stated that he had didn’t realize that the mix of the drugs he was taking had affected him so strongly. He further announced to the public that he accepts full responsibility for what he did and understands the severity. Woods’ arraignment will be on July 5th.
WHY SOME TALKING HEADS ARE WRONG
I’ve heard some on-air talking heads provide analysis that is misleading at best and thoroughly incorrect at worst. The analysis that shocked me when I heard it concerns whether someone can be guilty of DUI if they didn’t drink any alcohol before driving and were impaired solely by prescribed medication. Some very well respected analysts opined that in Florida, you cannot be convicted of DUI if you were impaired solely due to a prescribed controlled substance. That’s the alleged situation with Tiger. One of the drugs that he took was Vicodin, which is a controlled substance, consisting of a mixture of Hydrocodone and Tylenol. The talking heads passionately stated on reputable news station that the Florida DUI statutes make it clear that Tiger is legally innocent. To that, I passionately respond, “Bull crap!” (That’s a legal term)
Florida statute 316.193 makes it crystal clear that a person is guilty of DUI if they are impaired due to alcohol or a controlled substance. I think it’s irresponsible to suggest to the public that they can take their prescribed pain pills and get behind the wheel, endangering lives, and not be held criminally responsible. Under that faulty opinion, a person who then kills a pedestrian while driving high on pills could avoid any DUI related offense.
I’m not suggesting that a jury would definitely find someone guilty under these circumstances. An accused may successfully persuade a jury, perhaps by calling their doctor to testify and/or through expert testimony, that they shouldn’t be held criminally responsible for driving impaired. Whether a jury would convict is a different issue than whether the Florida DUI statute criminalizes driving while impaired due to a prescribed controlled substance. It does! It definitely does!
WHAT WILL LIKELY HAPPEN WITH TIGER’S CASE?
While there are several possible outcomes with Tiger’s case, I strongly envision one probable result. Especially based on the perceived strength of the prosecution’s case, coupled with Tiger’s quick admission and apology, I don’t expect him to take this to trial. I believe that prosecutors will offer him what most first time DUI offenders receive in West Palm County Court courtrooms. Most first time offenders are offered a reduced charge of Reckless Driving, along with a number of penalties as a condition of probation. Some of those penalties will likely include a substance abuse course, community service hours, fines and court costs. I think he’ll take the prosecutor’s deal. He avoids a DUI conviction and shows the public that he’s accepting responsibility for what he did. A highly publicized and significantly contested trial would not be in his best interest in the court of public opinion. He knows that. Since his greatest revenue stream is endorsements and they hinge upon his image, I expect him to resolve this matter quickly and as quietly as possible.
Having been a talking head for over two decades, I haven’t always gotten it right either. We are often asked to provide our opinions on a moments notice, often about the law of a state in which we have never practiced. So, I don’t condemn any talking head for not being accurate. Instead, I’ve chosen to find a couple of hours to crank out this article so that the public is properly informed.