Most people think of Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) and Driving Under the Influence (DUI) as offenses that involve “driving,” but the question in most jurisdictions is actually whether the vehicle is being “operated.” Operation of a vehicle is usually defined as using the vehicle for its intended purpose. So, if the police find you asleep in your running vehicle after consuming alcohol, drugs, or prescription medication, you are risking a DWI arrest — and your attorney will have to try and show that you were not “operating” the vehicle. Prosecutors will use every available fact to try and prove the vehicle was being operated. These facts might include circumstantial evidence to show you had recently driven, such as the location of the vehicle, fresh damage, or whether it’s in gear. In Tiger Woods’ case, these facts included being found with his foot on the brake of a running vehicle, which was stopped in a lane of traffic and had fresh tire damage.
Learn more about proving “operation” of a vehicle.
Tiger Woods is in a unique situation. Implications to his celebrity endorsement deals present a greater risk than the criminal consequences of a DWI. Although his admissions and cooperation at the scene were detrimental to the criminal case, it may have saved his endorsements because he provided proof that he had not been drinking. Most people don’t think of prescription drugs as being intoxicating in terms of DWIs, but you can be charged if the officer believes you are not normal mentally or physically due to prescription drugs in your system.
There are three standardized field sobriety tests: Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, Walk and Turn, and One Leg Stand. Woods did not follow the stimulus for the HGN test, and according to the police report, he failed the other two tests. The officer then administered two non-standardized field sobriety tests, including a nose-touch test and the “Romberg Alphabet” test. The latter test requires the individual to recite a portion (or all) of the alphabet forwards, not backward, without singing. The offense report indicates Woods successfully completed this task. While most people consent to perform field sobriety tests, it’s important to understand that you are not required to do so. You may politely refuse to perform field sobriety tests – in which case you may be arrested but at least will not have provided the police with incriminating evidence.
Learn more about field sobriety tests.
Notice that before Woods was read his Miranda warnings, he was questioned by police. He gave confusing answers about where he was coming from, something that could be used against him as a sign of intoxication. It’s important to understand that an officer’s investigation begins far before his first contact with the driver. Those friendly questions about where you are coming from, where you’re headed, and if you’ve had anything to drink are all part of the investigation. Woods’ incentive to cooperate with the investigation was probably very different than those who don’t have celebrity endorsement contracts with morality clauses. Notice also that Woods did not answer (or was not asked) any questions post-Miranda. That’s why the question-answer portion of the police report is blank. So why was Woods questioned before he was given Miranda warnings? Miranda only applies if you are in custody and being questioned. Officers can and do ask questions before a person is taken into custody, knowing that the odds of someone answering their questions diminish after being read their Miranda Warnings.
Ultimately, the takeaway from Woods’ arrest is to remember that you can be charged with a DWI or DUI on prescription medication. You can politely decline to answer the officer’s questions and perform field sobriety tests. Unless your reasons to cooperate with police are greater than the criminal consequences of a DWI, the prudent course of action is to be polite but not voluntarily help the police develop their case. If they get a warrant for your blood, cooperate with that order, but you are under no obligation to do their job for them, nor will you be punished more harshly for requiring them to do their job. Finally, remember that while this may be the prudent course of action, the absolute best decision is to pay for an Uber, Lyft, or cab if you have anything in your system that could impair your ability to drive.
Of course, as sports writer Tim Cowlishaw pointed out in a recent column, calling an Uber is easier said than done — and that’s true. Intoxicated individuals are notoriously bad at judging their own level of impairment. More times than not, individuals arrested for DWI thought it was safe for them to drive. The best advice? If you are going to drink or take prescription medication, make sure you’ve already planned a safe way to get home.