5810352news analysis Whatever happened between Tiger Woods and his wife last Friday, by now they're probably wishing they never talked to the police.
The initial reports said Woods lost control of his Cadillac SUV outside of his home and hit a fire hydrant and tree in his neighbor's yard. His wife, Elin Nordegren, reportedly told local police that she was in the house and, according to the police chief, "came out and broke the back window with a golf club" to extricate her husband.
But TMZ.com reported on Monday that Woods' wife told a different story to Florida state troopers that involved her searching for him in a golf cart, and that there was no blood on the steering wheel. That opens the couple up to the possibility of an investigation of spousal abuse on the possibility that the injuries were suffered before his accident; TMZ claims the Florida Highway Patrol is seeking a search warrant after Woods turned them away from his home three times. (Here's Woods' statement, and a CBS News report about an alleged other woman.)
Let Tiger and Elin's encounter with the local constabulary be a warning to you: Don't talk to the police without your lawyer present. Even if you're innocent. Just don't.
This advice may seem counter-intuitive. But before you convince yourself I'm wrong, it's worth watching this video (below) by James Duane, a professor at the Regent University School of Law in Virginia Beach and former criminal defense attorney, who makes precisely this point about your Fifth Amendment rights. (Here's a rebuttal from a police officer who agrees.)
One reason is that the list of what is and what isn't a crime has grown so long that even lawyers can barely figure it out. The American Bar Association has only an estimate of how many crimes exist: Offhand, do you know what is and isn't legal? Another is that, if the police already have a sufficient reason to arrest you, you're not going to be able to talk your way out of it.
Plus, the recollection of police officers can be mistaken; they may say you acknowledged guilt of some sort. Who do you think a judge will believe? The Innocence Project reports that: "In about 25 percent of DNA exoneration cases, innocent defendants made incriminating statements, delivered outright confessions or pled guilty."
The folks at Flex Your Rights, a non-profit group, have put together a less lawyerly, more comprehensive video titled: "BUSTED: The Citizen's Guide to Surviving Police Encounters." And of course, when dealing with federal police, telling them any "materially false" statement is a federal crime.
It's one thing if you call the police if, say, your wallet is stolen. But when they initiate the conversation and you may be a suspect, it's rarely in your best interests to talk. Just don't.
Because Tiger Woods' wife chose to speak with police, now she and her husband have become (at least if you believe TMZ) the focus of an criminal investigation. Remember, you have the right to remain silent. Use it.
Declan McCullagh is a correspondent for CBSNews.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and can be followed on Twitter as declanm. You can bookmark Declan's Taking Liberties site here, or subscribe to the RSS feed.