WEST PALM BEACH — After flirting with a stance of “not guilty” in August, golfer Tiger Woods is expected to plead guilty this Friday in connection with his May DUI arrest.
The “guilty” plea to the lesser charge of reckless driving (rather than the more severe “DUI”) will allow Woods to enter Palm Beach County’s diversion program for intoxicated drivers, which has processed nearly 2,500 first-time offenders since its inception 4 years ago.
Many experts considered this the best play for Woods from the outset.
“Looking at the facts of Tiger’s case, I don’t see any reason why he should not be offered entry into the program,” Steven Bell (a partner at Meltzer & Bell who has worked on thousands of Palm Beach County DUI cases) told USA TODAY Sports in August.
The program reportedly has an excellent success rate. Deputy State Attorney Richard Clausi has stated that fewer than 1% of enrollees have offended again.
“It’s still early,” he granted, “but we think it has been a success.”
J.T. Griffin, an officer with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said that MADD supports the Palm Beach County program and others around the country because they require that the cars of drunk drivers be fitted with an interlock device, which confirms the safety of a driver’s blood-alcohol level before allowing the car to start.
“It is good for the public because 50 to 75 percent of drunk drivers are going to continue to drive, even on a suspended driver’s license,” Griffin explained. “With an ignition interlock, they can keep driving but in a safe way and the hope is that they will learn their lesson.”
Woods, 41, would be on probation for a year and would pay a fine of $250, as well as court costs. He would also have to attend DUI school, perform 20 hours of community service and submit to regular drug tests throughout the duration. Finally, the golf star would be required to attend a workshop to hear victims of impaired drivers tell their stories.
Tiger’s arrest was fairly high-profile, with an accompanying video that was widely viewed over the internet. The golfer was discovered by officers near Jupiter on May 29th sleeping at the wheel of his Mercedes Benz with the engine, brake lights and flashers on. In the video, Woods could be seen swaying, rolling his eyes and struggling to stay conscious as the cops ran him through field sobriety tests.
The golfer initially insisted that the incident was brought about by a reaction to prescription drugs (Vicodin, Dilaudid, Ambien and Xanax, per drug testing) and not alcohol abuse. (He blew .000 in the Breathalyzer test once taken to the police station.) However, Woods has since conceded that he had been self-medicating for pain caused by his fourth back surgery and insomnia, and was not taking the drugs under the guidance of a physician.
“I realize now it was a mistake to do this without medical assistance,” he said.
Woods, who has spent much of his storied golf career as the #1 ranked player in the sport, has been suffering well-publicized difficulties in his professional performance, particularly owing to his back injury. He has said, however, that his back is improving.
Although he may be far from his best golf days at present, Woods was still ranked the 17th best-paid athlete in the world by Forbes Magazine for 2017, having raked in $37 million, mainly from endorsements.
It looks like Palm Beach County officials aren’t the only ones that still believe in Tiger.