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Legal Analyst and former U.S. Attorney Kendall Coffey was interviewed about the decision of the Florida Highway Patrol to charge Tiger Woods with only a traffic infraction rather than a misdemeanor for reckless driving.

"And one thing’s for sure, he was better off not talking at all to the authorities than he would have been if he tried to make up some explanation. We’ve all seen how many times people get nailed not for what they did but for what they fibbed. At least in this instance Woods totally avoided that exposure."

Kendall Coffey
Legal Analyst


Aired December 1, 2009 3:05 pm


Kendall Coffey interview CNN Live: Tiger Woods


RICK SANCHEZ: Joining us now is Kendall Coffey. He is a former prosecutor. Certainly has tried in the past to deal with this type of celebrity kind of story in South Florida. Are you surprised that they would come out and essentially put the kibosh on everything but a moving violation which, all things considered Kendall, this has to a huge victory for Tiger Woods, isn’t it?

KENDALL COFFEY: Well, it’s a huge victory - not only in the sense of the court of law victory. There’s not going to be any criminal investigation. There’s not going to be any search warrants. But maybe even in terms of the court of public opinion, Rick, because now it’s dead. His strategy of toughing it out, going into effectively radio silence even though he’s a public person – not giving any kind of public explanation – seems to be working. Too early to tell even though we can’t be sure whether it is a dead end of the media interest, it’s certainly a dead end to the legal case.

RICK SANCHEZ: Well, you and I both know a statement that is used very much among your circles in particular. You can beat the rap but you can’t beat the ride. Is the ride over for Tiger Woods?

KENDALL COFFEY: Well, I got to say that legally it is over. Is the press going to let go because to this day he has not given an explanation? I don’t think so. You’re the expert not me. But I think there’s a lot of frustration that he is somebody who makes so much money because of his public image and now doesn’t he owe the public some kind of explanation? He says not. His lawyers say not but I’m not sure if the public will agree with that.

RICK SANCHEZ: Well, the question is, he’s at 2:30 in the morning when all of the sudden he chooses interestingly enough to jump into his car barefooted and hastily make a retreat while hitting a fire hydrant and a tree. Is it not normal for journalists or the public to wonder what got into Tiger Woods at 2:30 in the morning that would cause him to do something like that?

KENDALL COFFEY: Well, you can’t help but wonder. And he is probably the most famous sports celebrity in the world – one with an incredibly squeaky clean trouble-free image so of course we’re wondering. And there are a couple of theories that we’ve all been reading about that are put out there but for whatever reason they decided that silence, refusing to answer questions – stonewalling – allowing that speculation to continue is better than putting some kind of explanation into the record which is what he would have to do if he had spoken to the police. And one thing’s for sure, he was better off not talking at all to the authorities than he would have been if he tried to make up some explanation. We’ve all seen how many times people get nailed not for what they did but for what they fibbed. At least in this instance Woods totally avoided that exposure.

RICK SANCHEZ: The officer said “we are not pursuing criminal charges” and she also said, Kendall, that no claims had been made regarding domestic abuse. That stuck in my mind. No claims had been made regarding domestic abuse. But having been a reporter in Florida for many years I happen to know that Florida is a no-consent state which means it doesn’t matter whether one party files charges against the other or not. If the police decide that they are going to file domestic abuse cases no matter who it is, whether it’s a wife or a man or a man and a wife, they can do so. Am I wrong?

KENDALL COFFEY: No, you are absolutely right. In fact sometimes the State Attorney’s Office will subpoena the victim of domestic abuse, make them show up in court even though they don’t want to testify against their domestic partner or their spouse or boyfriend or girlfriend. You’re absolutely right. But on the other hand, the police need probable cause that a crime has occurred to go to the next step such as getting a search warrant. Right now they believe, and I don’t think they’ve acted irresponsively, I actually give them credit for trying to get to the bottom of this. Try to get some answers out quickly. They think it’s careless driving – not reckless driving – not domestic violence.

RICK SANCHEZ: And not treating him any different than they would treat anybody else. After all, yes he’s a celebrity but that doesn’t mean that you have to higher or lower or make the bar any higher for him as you would for anyone else right?

KENDALL COFFEY: And let’s give the Florida Highway Patrol some credit for that. It’s very tempting for an officer to want to get their name in the news, make a career case out of digging and digging under every rock, behind every blade of grass. Instead, they tried to Joe Schmolify the case. Treat Tiger Woods like the Joe Schmo and get to the same result. That’s something I actually think the taxpayers can feel pretty good about.

RICK SANCHEZ: By the way, you know, the thing about a story like this is that just as it develops and we’re all following the information having to do with the accident. There’s the stories that are going on on the periphery of this story. It does appear that whatever argument may have been occurred between Tiger Woods’ wife and himself that night may have been spurred by an article that appeared in the tabloids. The woman at the center of that article is…