Mimesis Law
29 March 2017

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.

8 Comments on this post.

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  • Brian
    6 April 2016 at 10:03 am - Reply

    Miscreants, even when remorseful, should always plead “not guilty”, said the attorney.
    Sheesh!
    To someone with a hammer, everything looks like a nail…

  • Ben
    6 April 2016 at 10:47 am - Reply

    Oregon has a diversion program for first time DUII offenders. All defense attorneys in Oregon I have talked to say to take the field sobriety test so that you will qualify for diversion.

  • Chris
    6 April 2016 at 10:57 am - Reply

    An “interesting” way of looking at the world. Plenty of people have had DUIs and go on to become productive citizens with great jobs such as doctors, and some, on the other hand, go on to become lawyers. A good result isn’t necessarily getting your case dismissed and learning nothing, and not changing your stupid high risk behavior. People whose only consequence is a short misdemeanor jail sentence, slap on the wrist fines and community service, and some court mandated alcohol treatment get off way easier than the many who kill or hurt themselves or someone else as a result of their bad choice.

    Studies show that the mandatory staccato jail stays for first timers actually drastically reduce recidivism. It at least makes a great impression on the type of client who normally wouldn’t have to go.

  • Josh
    6 April 2016 at 11:18 am - Reply

    But the thing is, Oregon, compared to many other states, has an amazingly lenient and easy to complete diversion program on first time DUIIs.

    So while it is definitely possible that she didn’t think through her statement at all, it is also possible that she was told by her lawyer “the best thing to do is this diversion program as it guarantees dismissal as long as you take classes and have an IID for a year. Since we already know we’re doing that, go ahead and engage in your crisis management PR campaign to save your reputation and sponsorship opportunities.”

  • Matt Brown
    6 April 2016 at 12:16 pm - Reply

    I’ve been hearing about those studies for a decade, Chris, and I’ve yet to see one that really shows anything aside from license suspensions makes that much of a difference. Care to share your sources?

    And Josh and Ben, that could certainly explain a lot. It’s really concerning, however, that the benevolence of Oregon in offering something like diversion is training people to waive their constitutional rights and act in a way that impairs their ability to defend themselves should it be necessary. What happens when people with Chris’s view eventually convince Oregon to do away with diversion and we end up with people who did what Wambach did, but to their great disadvantage?

    • shg
      6 April 2016 at 12:21 pm - Reply

      What happens to people who follow Wambach’s example (because she is a celebrity, admired and her words/actions reach beyond Oregon), except don’t live in a state with such a benevolent view? This is why the caution of this post remains worthy of note, regardless of Oregon’s benevolence.

  • Huh?
    6 April 2016 at 8:22 pm - Reply

    Maybe she was genuinely remorseful and embarrassed, and thought that her moral obligation to come clean–under her own moral code, not because of any legal requirement–was more important than trying to minimize her punishment. Such an act might even be thought of as…admirable.

    • Paul
      6 April 2016 at 10:25 pm - Reply

      That’s great, except the system punishes the genuinely remorseful and embarrassed person with a moral obligation to come clean. Such a person gets significantly worse punishments than a remorseless, uninhibited person with a moral obligation to say nothing besides “lawyer.”