Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Silence of Tiger Woods

As have a few other people, I have been following the story of Tiger Woods and his low-speed, single vehicle accident. I would guess, however, that my reasons for following this story are different than most other people’s reasons. You see, while some people are trying to get as much information as they can regarding the incident, I’m hoping very little new information is found. I guess that’s the attorney in me.

I wrote about this some time ago when Michael Phelps was pictured supposedly partaking of herbal pharmaceuticals. I wrote it then and I'll write it again, remember how Hollywood treats this moment. What is the first thing officers tell those who are arrested? “You have the right to remain silent; anything you say can be used against you in a court of law, etc …” It would serve you well to remember that. Note also, that you do not have to be under arrest for your statements to get you in trouble. Even off the cuff comments can incriminate you. Never speak with the police without the advice and presence of an attorney. Nothing good for you will ever come of it. Remember that the police do not have the authority to offer you any kind of deal in exchange for what you say. They are, however, able to “put in a good word” for you, whatever that means. Usually, not much.

The 5th Amendment gives you the right to refuse to add fuel to the fire that will be used to grill you. Understand that the police are focused on investigating the incident and arriving at a justifiable conclusion. You cannot view anything you say as simply an attempt to carry on a friendly, cooperative conversation. Whether it is an interview, an interrogation, or a just-talk-to-us-you-have-nothing-to-hide-because-you-did-nothing-wrong moment, your answers will be used to develop/justify their conclusions, regardless of your intent. I’m not saying the police will be dishonest or underhanded, but just note that their motivation will be different than yours.

Those who know me or who I am blessed to count as regular readers will know that I have tremendous respect for police officers. My advice is not meant as a slight to officers at all. In fact, it’s really just an invitation to slow down. What’s the hurry? Why do you need to speak with the police right this minute? What harm is there in invoking your right to remain silent and waiting until you have an attorney present to walk you through the process? In law school, we used the phrase, “You can’t unring the bell.” Once the statement is made, you cannot take it back. Better to be advised by someone who knows the ropes before you “ring the bell.”

Anyway, back to Mr. Woods. Based on the information received so far, the only cooperating witnesses to the incident appeared on the scene once the initial accident was over. The witness with the most accurate account of what happened—Mr. Woods—is not speaking. He’s cancelled meeting with investigators, and also cancelled public appearances. By all accounts, Mr. Woods has received and heeded the best advice possible—remain silent.

This is not obstruction of justice. There is a very real possibility that anything Mr. Woods says will be used to prosecute him. Therefore, he has a right, as we all do, to put the state to its burden. If the state has a charge to prove, let them do so without the help of the accused. This is not a subversion of justice, nor is it a perk due him because of his money or status. It’s a Constitutional right. One we all possess.

Sure, answering our questions will make us feel better. It will sell more newspapers and advertising time. It will fulfill our “need to know.” It is good public relations. News media will rake him over the coals for not taking control of this situation. They will criticize him for it. They’re upset because they are deprived of the opportunity to tell all. They are not happy because they are forced to print rumor and speculation (though they will gladly do so anyway).

Pay them no mind. For him to speak now could provide evidence against Mr. Woods himself. Out of his own mouth.

Right now, it looks like the battle between public relations and the attorney is being won by the attorney. That’s the way it should be. He could possibly be facing charges for this incident. There may be civil issues to sort out as well. That is better done behind closed doors until the time is right. His future is worth more than my curiosity.

See here, as well, for my personal experience as well as some advice from my law school professor. Warning: he talks fast.


Did it MY way said...

Very good advice. Thank you.

The press should be covering important news. Tiger is not important news.

Lawyer said...

I agree! Thanks for stopping by!