Samuel Goldberg has been a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney for 20 years. Prior to that, he was a New York state prosecutor. He has published various articles regarding the practice of criminal law and frequently provides legal analysis on radio and television, appearing on outlets such as the Fox News Channel, Court TV, MSNBC and The BBC Network. To speak to Sam about a criminal matter call (617) 492 3000.

The Lesson Of The Tiger Woods Criminal Investigation– When Not To Talk To The Police

Boston, along with the rest of the country, has been watching the events unfold in the Tiger Woods automobile accident matter. While the participants took turns not talking (law enforcement would not talk to the press and Tiger would not talk to anyone), I have been reminded of one of the most important lessons I learned many years ago as a young assistant district attorney.

The lesson?

When to keep your mouth shut.

For those of you not acquainted with the latest Tiger Woods adventure, let me recap with what we now know.

It was early Friday morning at 2:25 a.m. just outside Woods’s driveway in one of Orlando’s most exclusive suburbs. Woods was the driver as the vehicle had a collision . Woods was described as being briefly unconscious with blood on his lips and mouth. Neighbors called 911 and then rendered outside to render aid while awaiting an ambulance and police.

Woods’ wife was also reportedly on the scene with a golf club which she is said to have used to help get Tiger out of the car.

Typically, when a minor car crash occurs, the police investigate and obtain the persons insurance and side of story. A police report is formed and they move on. Of course, that is if the police do not decide, based on what they heard, that criminal charges should be brought against someone. In this case, it was not Woods, but Woods’ attorney who provided information.

Well, make that some information. He provided the troopers with Woods’ driver’s license information, registration and current proof of insurance as required by Florida law. And that was it. In the meantime, Woods and, soon thereafter, his wifeprovided no additional information.

Rumors and innuendo engulfed the story since then. Some people spoke of a potential domestic abuse issue; others wondered if Tiger might have been intoxicated. Some even claimed that Tiger had been having an affair with someone which may have been related to the accident.

The police say that did not treat this investigation differently than any other. However, they did have a problem which does not come up that often. Namely, a suspicion that there must be something actionable…but no evidence of any kind to demonstrate what it was.

Despite the omnipresent question of “why”, Woods and his wife continued to decline to meet with investigators. Woods also refused to make any public statement.

The only statement released by Woods was issued on Sunday night indicating that he alone was responsible for the crash He also denounced “the many false, unfounded and malicious rumors that are currently circulating about my family and me.”

Finally, the Florida Highway Patrol held a news conference yesterday to announce that it had no evidence to pursue any criminal charges in connection with Woods’s single-car crash outside his mansion. They also announced that investigators had “insufficient evidence” to seek a subpoena of Woods’s medical records and said “there are no claims of domestic violence by any individual.”

A traffic citation was issued, however, in the amount of $160 for the driving talent that presumably led to the accident.

It is unlikely that said citation will be challenged by Woods.

Attorney Sam’s Take:

It is a message I have been posting on this blog for over a year now. I do not know if Tiger is a reader, but he has followed the advice.

“Never talk to the police?”

No.

“If you have an accident, get out of the car fast?”

Not quite.

The message is that if you are under investigation, and believe that criminal charges could possibly result, retain and listen to an experienced defense attorney before you do anything else.

I am not involved in the Tiger Woods matter. However, I would bet that the attorney’s early appearance in this matter is not an accident (no pun intended). I believe that Tiger was advised right away to keep quiet lest he make a statement that could be used against him and give evidence to some theory that could result in criminal prosecution.

“So, you’re saying that Tiger had something to hide?”

Not at all, I have no idea how the accident happened. However, I do know from experience how statements can often be twisted and suddenly a prosecution results with little more than the statement as evidence against the defendant. What we do know is, the way things worked out, no statement was made and no charges resulted.

Remember – often, if the police like what you have to say, it is used against you as evidence. If they do not, and feel they can show it to be false, it can give rise to a felony prosecution for intimidation of a witness.

“What about the Sunday night statement that he was the only one involved in the accident?”

First of all, it was a statement released by Woods. That would indicate that it was not he, himself, speaking the statement. Therefore, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to use against him. However, it did give the police enough to issue the citation. This could well have been a strategy decision so that the police would have at least enough to issue the citation, save face and go away.

It would have been an excellent strategy. Dealing with the police at times in which someone could be suspected or charged with a crime is a tricky thing. The only smart way to deal with it is to retain an experienced attorney who can guide you through it.

On this Friday’s Attorney Sam’s Take, I will revisit the topic of what to do when the police come to you looking for a statement. It is not as clear-cut as you may think.

Once again, if you or a loved one is facing a situation like this, I suggest you retain an attorney who can advise and defend. Should you wish to discuss the matter with me, please feel free to call me at (617) 206-1942.

For the full articles upon which today’s blog is based, go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/01/AR2009120104167.html , http://www.cnn.com/2009/SPORT/12/02/golf.woods.affair.denial/ and http://www.examiner.com/x-31413-Charlotte-Celebrity-Headlines-Examiner~y2009m12d1-Tiger-Woods-Investigation-Continues

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