Monday, November 30, 2009

The Media Catches Tiger By The Tail

Sure, your Thanksgiving dishes are put away and you are well on your way to gaining those extra holiday ten pounds. But all anyone is really talking about this morning is what happened on Tiger Wood's driveway early Saturday morning. Was it an affair with another woman that sent Tiger's wife Elin over the edge? Or was it really just a simple 2 A.M. errand that resulted in a fender bender with a fire hydrant? Randall Mel of has an interesting legal analysis.

WINDERMERE, Fla. – Three times in the last three days Florida Highway Patrol officers knocked on Tiger Woods’ door seeking an explanation about what led to his traffic accident outside his Isleworth mansion in the early morning hours Friday.

Three times Woods declined to speak to them.

Based on statements by Woods’ agent, Mark Steinberg, it now appears Woods will not speak to investigators at all. Woods’ attorney, Mark NeJame, presented Woods’ driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance to officers on Sunday as his cooperation with the investigators assigned to the case.

What’s the deal? Legally, is Woods required to answer their questions? How might this affect the investigation and any potential charges? What legal risks are out there for Woods? posed these and other questions to a pair of criminal defense attorneys from Orlando, Hal Uhrig of The Defense Group, and Adam Pollack:

Is Woods legally required to speak to FHP investigators?

Uhrig: There are only a few things that the statute really requires Tiger Woods to provide: his name, driver’s license information, proof of insurance and that sort of information. Beyond that, he may simply be disinclined to have any conversation with the FHP.

Does it matter that he is avoiding investigators?

Uhrig: It certainly matters to curious people who want to know. There may be something, more than just an accident, that he is not prepared to discuss. He doesn’t want to lie, but he doesn’t want to talk about it.

Pollack: I think the worst thing that can happen in this type of case is, unfortunately, that this is going to open all kinds of speculation. The Enquirer and magazines like that will have a field day speculating as to what happened. Mr. Woods and his wife have no way to combat that. People will wonder why he wouldn’t say anything. The natural reaction is: What do you have to hide? That is a public relations issue. But I suspect when he gets back to doing what he’s good at, this will blow over and just be a bad memory for him.

How might less than full cooperation affect the FHP’s findings?

Uhrig: They may make every negative imprint against him if he refuses to talk and assume he was driving carelessly or recklessly.

What’s the worst legal outcome you see Woods facing based on the known facts?

Uhrig: They could charge him with careless driving, because he lost control of the car. That’s a small fine. They would probably not charge him with reckless driving because he did not fly out of the driveway at 60 mph and drive in circles and sideways into (the fire hydrant and tree). If he just left his driveway and lost control, it may be careless driving, but there may be mechanical reasons, something on the car may have failed.

Pollack: At this point, it seems like careless driving would be the worst charge. The problem is that nobody can put him behind the wheel. I guess his wife could, but she didn’t actually see the accident. She came out after the fact. Without any witness, there is nobody to put him as the driver. I know that sounds crazy, but that’s what the law says. You have to be able to put him behind the wheel at the time of the accident. Mr. Woods doesn’t have to say anything in his defense.

What should we make of the fact that Woods has hired Mark NeJame, a criminal defense attorney, to handle this matter?

Uhrig: I doubt he’s using him for any criminal stuff. I think he’s looking at him as a spokesperson. Mr. NeJame is somebody who has been involved in high profile cases before. He may be the filter through which Mr. Woods provides whatever information he’s going to.

The initial police report stated that alcohol was not a factor. There appears to have been no testing for alcohol or drugs, no breathalyzer or blood draw. Also, Woods wasn’t informed that he was being arrested for suspicion of DUI, a requirement before he can be tested. Does that rule out DUI charges?

Uhrig: It would be all but impossible. If they don’t have a test of his breath, blood or urine shortly after the accident, their chance of a DUI are almost none.

Pollack: If alcohol or drugs was suspected to play a role, then the Florida Highway Patrol could have ordered a compulsory blood draw. There is a procedure they have to follow. The fact that (the report stated no alcohol was involved) leads me to believe they didn’t order a blood draw.

There was an unsubstantiated report that a domestic dispute might have precipitated the accident. Even if that were true, what are the chances the FHP investigation could lead the Orange County Sheriff’s department to pursue domestic charges of any sort?

Uhrig: I suppose if somebody in the household came forward and complained that somebody was beating somebody, or somebody was trying to escape, there could be an investigation. People are going to speculate one way or another, but I don’t think law enforcement is going anywhere with that. If they were to consider a criminal investigation, neither he nor his wife have any obligation to say anything to the police. They can say, `Leave us alone.’ If police want to try to develop evidence that somebody did something unlawful to the other and charge, they can do that, but they can’t compel Mr. or Mrs. Woods to provide them with any details they don’t want to give them. You would be kind of spinning your wheels.


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