Previously, we began looking at the fairly recent arrest of Tiger Woods for DUI and his subsequent statement that his impairment was due to an unexpected reaction to prescription drugs. As we mentioned last time, there are special issues to take into consideration with cases involving drug impairment.
One of these issues is that, unlike cases involving alcohol impairment, there is no legal limit to determine when a drugged driver is driving under the influence “per se.” In drunken driving cases, a determination that the motorist was at or above the legal limit generally makes it easier to convict that person, depending on the circumstances of the case.
Because there is no legal limit in drugged driving cases, prosecutors have to meet another legal standard for impairment. Under New York law, it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle in an impaired state, which means that the individual’s ability to safely operate the vehicle is compromised. Prosecutors are required to provide relevant, reliable evidence that the driver was operating a motor vehicle while impaired by drugs beyond a reasonable doubt. Proving impairment, whether by drugs or alcohol, is not necessarily an easy matter for prosecutors, or at least it shouldn’t be.
An important distinction that needs to be made in DUI cases is the appearance of impairment vs. actual impairment. Police officers will make a number of observations when investigating a driving suspected of impairment, but one or two pieces of evidence suggesting impairment don’t necessarily add up to actual impairment. The quality of the evidence makes a difference, and it is important for defendants to work with an experienced attorney to hold the government to its full burden of proof in these cases.
We’ll say more about this issue in our next post.