TIGER WOODS DID NOT NEED ME.
I knew this was going to happen. I told everyone who asked me.
In late May, Tiger Woods was arrested in Jupiter, Florida, and charged with the crime of Driving While Impaired. As has been widely reported, he had no alcohol in his system at all. Rather, it appeared that he was impaired by a combination of prescription medications.
Well-meaning friends, relatives and colleagues from all over the country reached out to ask me whether I would be representing Tiger Woods, since Jupiter is just down the road from here.
No, I told one and all. Tiger Woods will not need a top-shelf DUI Defender like me. Although it certainly looked to me to be a defendable case, Tiger was going to be offered a chance to enter a diversion program. All but a very few first-time DUI cases in Palm Beach County end up being diverted.
The Florida legislature has authorized courts to utilize various kinds of diversion programs. Chapter 397.344 of the Florida Statutes provides specifically for the creation of treatment-based drug court programs. Successful participants have their criminal charges dismissed upon completion. Chapter 948.16 provides for alternative pretrial intervention programs, including veterans’ court, mental health court and substance abuse court. Chapter 948.08 provides comparable authority to divert cases from prosecution.
The Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office has extended these programs to include DUI cases involving many first offenders. Orange County does the same.
Tiger Woods appears to meet the minimal requirements, and so his DUI charge will ultimately be dismissed, so long as he obeys the rules of the diversion program, and sticks with it to its conclusion.
To gain admission into this diversion program, Tiger Woods did not need a lawyer whose practice is focused primarily on defending DUI charges. His lawyer did not need an educational background in chemistry, biology or gas chromatography, whether obtained before, during or after law school.
This is not in any way a criticism of the lawyer Woods hired. He just did not need a lawyer like me.
Several of current and former clients have called today to ask whether they, too, can enter a diversion program, and have their DUI charges go away, just like Tiger’s will.
Alas, I must tell them, their prayers have been answered, but the answer is no.
The Nineteenth Judicial Circuit, made up of St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River and Okeechobee counties, has not yet instituted a pre-trial diversion program for first-time DUI cases. I do not see that happening any time soon, either.
But I was right about Tiger. He did not need me. But I am here, if you do
Michael Kessler is a board-certified criminal trial lawyer and the co-author of The DUI Book: Florida Edition, a Citizen’s Handbook on Fighting a Drunk Driving Case. Mr. Kessler teaches DUI defense at continuing legal education programs throughout the country. His primary office is in Fort Pierce, and he maintains another office in Key West.