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Tiger Woods pleads not guilty to DUI charges
Tiger Woods' attorney entered a plea of not guilty to DUI charges levied against his client back in May. The plea is part of a larger plan to keep Woods from serving jail time.
By Michael Bamberger
Friday, November 03, 2017

Dave Aronberg, the Harvard-educated state prosecutor who oversaw the Tiger Woods plea deal last week following his May arrest on a DUI charge, had an experience with the iconic golfer that was remarkably consistent with the experience scores of touring pros have had with Woods over the years.

“He was all business,” Aronberg said in a phone interview Thursday. “He was there to get the job done.”

Aronberg encountered Woods only once, in a Palm Beach County courtroom on the afternoon of Nov. 3, when Woods pleaded guilty to a reckless driving charge. “You can tell he’s all business in his eyes,” Aronberg said. “You can see what let him become the golfer he is. There was no chitchat. There was no glad-handing. There were no selfies. He doesn’t mess around. He was there on a mission.”

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That mission was to get the arrest, along with the discomfiting mug shot and squad-car dashcam video that came with it, in his rearview mirror. Woods’s urine sample showed the use of five drugs.

In a further effort to get on with the rest of his life, Woods announced on Monday that he will play in his own event, the 18-man Hero World Challenge, which begins Nov. 30 on a resort course in the Bahamas. Woods, who is 41, surely hopes to find at least some of the qualities that made him one of the most electrifying figures ever to play golf.

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But between now and Nov. 3 of next year, the independence and privacy that Woods treasures will be compromised by the wheels of jurisprudence. Aronberg and one of his deputies, Ricky Clausi, explained that for the next year, as part of his plea agreement, Woods is subject to random, unannounced drug tests to ensure that he is not abusing drugs.

Clausi explained how his office both tried to treat the Woods case as “one of the 50,000 misdemeanor cases we prosecute every year,” while recognizing that Woods’s extreme fame impacts how people around him react. For that reason, his case was put on the docket for Friday afternoon, instead of Friday morning as had first been planned, so the court could handle its other hearings without the distraction of the large media contingent that followed Woods at the courthouse.

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Clausi also said that Woods, like all defendants who accept the state’s diversion program, was given the choice of going to a public program to hear DUI victims speak of their experiences or a longer and more interactive version of the program via the Internet. Woods chose the Internet option. Clausi and Aronberg also said that Woods completed the plea agreement’s required 20 hours of community service before the Nov. 3 court date. They did not know the exact nature of his service work but said it was connected to the work done by the Tiger Woods Foundation.

The two prosecutors said, by long-established court rules, they had no direct contact with Woods. Instead, Clausi said he worked closely with Woods’s lawyer, Doug Duncan. Both prosecutors described Duncan as a pro’s pro, experienced in handling high-profile cases with high-profile clients. They said Woods had received good advice to hire Duncan in the first place.

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Aronberg said Woods “went to a real doctor, not some quack,” to get a substance-abuse evaluation after his arrest. Woods’s time in a rehab facility began before the terms of the plea deal were reached, but would have been required as part of the plea deal anyhow. Under the terms of the Florida diversion program, Woods’s arrest and conviction will be expunged from his record if he has no further drug-related driving violations in the next 51 weeks. Clausi, who sees hundreds of DUI charges, said the May 29 police videotape showed “one of the more impaired people I have ever seen.” Had Woods’s children been in the car, or even a pet, the plea agreement he accepted would not have even been available to him.

Because no traces of alcohol use were found in his breath test at the time of his arrest, Woods will not have an ignition-locking device attached to his car, a mechanism that requires a driver to prove he or she has not had alcohol before driving. The installation of such devices are commonly part of DUI plea agreements but not relevant to this case. At the Presidents Cup post-victory press conference, Woods had a coffee cup in front of him. Other team members had clearly been enjoying other types of beverages.

Tiger Woods leaves Palm Beach County court October 27, 2017 in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Woods plead guilty to a second-degree misdemeanor reckless driving charge.
Getty Images

Woods arrived at the courthouse in West Palm Beach in a black SUV accompanied by his girlfriend, Erica Herman. He was wearing loafers, a dark suit, an off-white collarless shirt and large black sunglasses. He was not wearing the baseball caps golf fans are so accustomed to seeing. Dozens of cameras were pointed at him, as they often are. The collarless shirt, gaining in popularity on the course, is not what the public is accustomed to seeing when celebrities enter a courtroom.

“His attire was absolutely business professional by comparison to what we often see,” Aronberg said. “We see a lot of defendants in shorts and T-shirts.”

Aronberg said Woods’s fame could actually help him make sure he does not get behind the wheel of a car in an impaired condition again. Camera phones are often pointed at him, Aronberg said. “There’s no place for him to hide.”

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