On May 29, America awoke to national news headlines screaming about Tiger Woods’ early morning driving under the influence arrest in Florida. Initial reports confirmed that Woods had no alcohol in his system, but rather a cocktail of prescription drugs. The toxicology report confirmed that he had taken a mix of muscle relaxants and painkillers prior to operating his vehicle.

Drug DUI charges like Woods’ are increasingly common. Many people wonder how the State can actually prove a DUI when the breath test comes back negative.

While this post will use New Jersey law to explain drug dui charges, keep in mind that different states have different procedures, penalties, and policies.

Drug DUI Traffic Stop, Sobriety Tests, and Arrest

Police officers who patrol state and local highways in the early hours of the morning have a heightened awareness that they are sharing the road with a number of individuals driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. When an officer observes a driver fail to maintain lanes, fail to use a turn signal, speed fluctuations, or otherwise erratic driving, and then he or she will conduct a motor vehicle stop.

Officer are trained to observe physical, audible, or olfactory signals that a driver may be under the influence upon engaging with the driver as a result of the stop. These signs include:

  • Slow, fumbling hand movements
  • Watery, bloodshot eyes
  • Slow, slurred speech
  • Odor of alcohol or burnt narcotics

Once the officer determines that he or she has a “reasonable, articulable suspicion” that the person is under the influence, the next step is a series of psychophysical tests called Standardized Field Sobriety Tests. In New Jersey, these include:

  • Walk and Turn: Keeping hands at sides, suspect walks nine steps heel-to-toe in a straight line, turns and walks nine steps back
  • One Leg Stand: Keeping hands at sides, suspect raises one leg six inches of the ground and counts to a number specified by the officer
  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus: “The eye test” gauges the suspect’s pupils, seeing whether they involuntarily deviate from normal position while following the light.

If he officer determines that the suspect substantially failed the test, then he or she will place the suspect under arrest.

Breath Test, Drug Recognition Evaluation, & Urine Sample

After the suspect is transported to the police station following the arrest, he or she will be processed while the officers follow state protocol in preparing for and administering the breath test. New Jersey uses a machine called the Alcotest 7110, but the machines use vary state to state. If the reading comes back positive, then the suspect will be released to a loved one with a DUI summons. If the results are negative, then further testing is required.

In New Jersey, a Drug Recognition Expert is a member of the police force who has received extensive training in the identification of influence of drugs. This officer conducts an additional series of tests and makes a determination as to whether the suspect is under the influence. If the officer believes that the suspect is under the influence, a urine sample will be requested. If the suspect refuses to produce a urine sample, the police can ask for a warrant.

Defending Drug DUI Charges

According to ESPN, Woods’ arraignment has been moved to August. The New York Post has reported that he has enrolled in in-patient treatment. This is a great start in his defense. Judges and prosecutors are much more willing to work with defendants who identify that they have an issue and seek to correct their behavior.

Once he returns home, his attorney will work to challenge the State’s ability to prove its case against him by a reasonable doubt. The issues that the attorney will work to challenge will include:

  • Initial Traffic Stop
  • Field Sobriety Tests:- This is an interesting one. Woods was on painkillers as a result of a recent back surgery. His back condition likely precludes his ability to successfully complete the SFSTs.
  • Results of the Drug Recognition Evaluation: Was the officer who conducted the DRE Exam qualified with up-to-date certifications?
  • Urine Sample: Dis Woods consent? Was a warrant lawfully requested and issued?

Hopefully Tiger can return to his profession soon and resume his life. Drug DUI’s are life-altering and carry significant penalties like loss of license, steep fines, and possibly jail. Fortunately, it looks like he is being proactive and that his defense is off to a good start. Good luck Tiger!

Steve McGuckin

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