The Tiger Woods D.U.I. Case: Analysis Under Ohio Law

Golfing and drunk driving charges - the 19th holeDuring the early morning hours of Memorial Day, Tiger Woods was arrested near his Florida home for D.U.I.. Police found Woods asleep behind the wheel of his badly damaged Mercedes, with engine running, but parked along the roadside. Woods was awakened by the police and exhibited slurred speech while stating he was coming from California and didn’t know where he was according to the police report. Woods took a breathalyzer test which registered 0.00 and a urine test with as of yet unknown results. Later that day, Woods issued a statement that alcohol was not involved but rather he had an “unexpected reaction to prescription medications.”

So how would Ohio law deal with the Tiger Woods case? To answer that question, a few issues must be analyzed? First, the name of the charge, i.e., D.U.I. (Driving Under the Influence) has no significance. D.U.I., D.W.I. (Driving While Intoxicated), or O.V.I. (Operating a Vehicle While Intoxicated) are all the same offense in Ohio and explained in § 4511.19 of the Ohio Revised Code. Those accused of D.U.I. are all charged under §4511.19 and the acronym assigned to the charge is unrelated to the facts or penalty.

The second issue is whether Tiger Woods was “operating” a vehicle under Ohio law when his car was parked but with the engine running? Ohio law broadly defines “operating” and many courts have held a person sitting in a parked car with the engine running is operation. However, R.C. §4511.01 (HHH), requires the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the person charged with D.U.I. drove the vehicle while impaired or under the influence. Sitting or sleeping in a car, even with the engine running, may not be sufficient to prove the charged person operated the vehicle while impaired.

The last issue is whether taking prescription drugs resulting in a driver’s impairment can give rise in an Ohio D.U.I. charge? The answer is YES. R.C. § 4511.19 states “no personal shall operate any vehicle…at the time of operation…the person is under the influence of alcohol a drug of abuse, or a combination of them.” Since drugs like Percocet, Valium, and Oxycodone are drugs of abuse, the presence of these drugs in one’s blood or urine along with signs of impairment can result in a D.U.I. charge and conviction. Therefore, Tiger Woods could be convicted under Ohio law even if his impairment was the result of pain medication prescribed to him by a doctor due to back surgery. This is consistent with the law that, in Ohio, D.U.I. is a strict liability offense; meaning if a person became impaired from taking medication then the responsibility is upon them not to operate a motor vehicle. However, a person can only be convicted of a crime in Ohio if they commit a voluntary act. For example, if a driver becomes impaired because someone drugged his drink then the law would not hold him criminally responsible. Can Tiger Woods and his lawyers develop a theory of defense that his impairment was involuntary; meaning, he was unaware the drugs he took and the combination thereof would result in his “adverse reaction.” In similar cases, the defense has called a toxicologist who testifies that the impairment was drug induced but not one readily known to the person charged with the offense.  If this can be done, then the prosecution may have a difficult time convicting Tiger of a D.U.I. offense.

If you need a lawyer for a D.U.I.  case, call Attorney W. Joseph Edwards (614-309-0243) who has over 25 years experience representing clients in legal matters.


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