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Driver’s statement to reporters: apology, admission or nothing?

Drivers involved in serious traffic accidents are often questioned by reporters while they are still suffering from the stress of the accident. In a recent accident on Long Island, the driver who allegedly caused the accident and was arrested for DWI was quoted by reports as admitting that he was high and apologizing to victims. But then, he pleaded innocent to all charges. What happened?

The accused driver was traveling east on Montauk Highway when he slammed into a Chrysler Sebring heading north on William Floyd Parkway. The car behind the Sebring hit it and drove it into a fourth car. The driver of the Sebring was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. Seven other persons were treated for injuries received in the accident. Meanwhile, the driver, who is accused of causing the accident, ran from the accident site but was captured after a short foot chase.

The driver was charged with driving while impaired on drugs and with leaving the scene of an accident. As he was being led into the courthouse for his arraignment, he was asked several questions by reporters. According to more than one witness, the man apologized for hurting anyone and admitted that he had taken a drug – most likely PCP – before the accident. When asked by the judge to respond to the charges against him, the driver pleaded not guilty to all charges. His lawyer dismissed the statements made to the reporters, stating that his client had received a blow on the head in the accident and “may have [been] delirious” when he spoke to reporters.

Whether an accused person’s statements to reporters can be construed as legal admissions of guilt depends on many factors, and that question cannot be answered in this case until more facts become available. In any event, the brief exchange between the accused and the reporters demonstrates the perils for a defendant of saying anything about an accident before entering an official plea. Anyone who faces DWI charges may wish to speak with a lawyer who specializes in such cases. Such a consultation can provide a useful analysis of the facts of the case and an estimate of the chance of obtaining a favorable plea agreement or an outright acquittal. Such a consultation may also provide a warning against talking to reporters.

Source: CBS New York, “Driver Charged In Deadly LI Crash Apologizes, Says He Was High On Drugs,” Aug. 12, 2015