Abby Wambach: Amazing Athlete, Awful Defendant
Apr. 6, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — Over the weekend, Abby Wambach found herself in the same situation as countless other people all across the country:
Portland police Sgt. Peter Simpson said Sunday that a sergeant stopped the 35-year-old Saturday night after she reportedly ran a red light in her Range Rover near downtown.
Simpson says Wambach failed field-sobriety tests and was arrested. He says she also failed a breath test at the police precinct.
Wambach, who lives in Portland, was booked into Multnomah County Jail early Sunday on a charge of Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants (DUII) — Alcohol. Booking records show she was released Sunday on her own recognizance.
A 35-year-old getting stopped for running red light late on a Saturday night and ending up with a DUI isn’t news, but then again, Wambach’s resume isn’t like most people’s:
Wambach is the leading career scorer — male or female — in international soccer with 184 career goals. She retired in December after 15 years with the U.S. women’s national team.
Unfortunately, it seems Wambach was more concerned with doing damage control for her public persona than with helping her case:
She issued a statement on her Facebook page on Sunday morning, writing she was arrested as she was returning home from dinner at a friend’s house.
“Those that know me, know that I have always demanded excellence from myself. I have let myself and others down. I take full responsibility for my actions,” she wrote. “This is all on me. I promise that I will do whatever it takes to ensure that my horrible mistake is never repeated.
“I am so sorry to my family, friends, fans and those that look to follow a better example.”
It must be a fascinating feeling, being famous. For most people, a DUI arrest and charges triggers a desire for self-preservation. For Wambach, it seems to have triggered a desire to preserve her reputation first. Not only is it unlikely to help her, but what she did is potentially disastrous to her ability to defend herself in her pending DUI case.
Almost everyone is sorry about their DUI. They generally cooperate at the scene and then again at the station. They cry to the cop, or to their lawyer, or to the prosecutor or judge that they’ll never do it again. Honestly, they probably won’t. But we punish them anyway.
Judges’ hands are almost always tied with mandatory sentencing provisions, and try as we defense attorneys might, prosecutors are rarely inclined to make a sweetheart deal simply because the defendant regrets it. Most of the time, it takes a viable defense and some intense bargaining or a hard fought trial to get a good resolution in a DUI case. Wambach probably destroyed any opportunity she had for that to happen.
Her statement is a pretty solid admission of guilt. The prosecutor, like most jurors and judges, will think that she wouldn’t be saying she let herself down if she didn’t do something wrong. And if she wasn’t driving drunk, for what would she be taking responsibility? She’s in a much worse position now to deny that the tests results showing impairment were accurate, and her comments could probably be construed to be an admission that she ran the red light too, especially the part about it all being on her. Her lawyer isn’t going to have an easy time winning a motion to suppress for an unlawful stop if Wambach claims she didn’t run the red and was stopped without cause. She said she took “full” responsibility, right? It’s “all” on her? Does that not include the traffic violation?
Given, it also seems Wambach didn’t do herself any favors from the beginning. She did the field sobriety tests at the scene, after all, which she could have refused. It probably wouldn’t have stopped the cop from arresting her, of course, but it would’ve removed one more piece of evidence on which the cop could’ve based his decision to arrest her. She might have had a decent motion to suppress for an unlawful arrest if all the cop had to go on was the fact she ran a light and didn’t want to do the standard field sobriety tests.
The cop would no doubt argue she had bloodshot, watery eyes, the odor of alcohol, and slurred speech, but the tests are still typically better evidence than just those sorts of observations. It seems Wambach started making her lawyer’s job harder at the scene and continued until she got to her computer the following morning.
That Wambach’s apology might not help her case may not matter to her, a real possibility based simply on what the fact she gave it says about her priorities. Sadly, although it’s hard to know for sure, it may not help her reputation either.
DUI has been demonized in this country to the point that it’s the touch of death for many people. On top of the direct consequences of the DUI case itself, it often makes it so people can’t find work or can’t afford auto insurance, and it may even impact immigration status or child custody proceedings.
For a celebrity like Wambach, it may cost her endorsements and sponsorships even with her mitigating statement. We’ve made DUI so stigmatized and punishments and collateral consequences so severe and strictly imposed that apologizing and having zero chance of reoffending often becomes the baseline for only getting screwed the minimum the law requires while being scorned by society as well. As it stands, Wambach may have hurt her case for no discernible benefit.
There’s a lot to admire about Abby Wambach. Tanking any defense she might have had to her DUI is not the thing you want to emulate, however. The best she can hope for now is that celebrities get some sort of special treatment or that her case was already bad enough that the extra damage she added doesn’t make it that much worse.