For Reese Witherspoon Or Any Celebrity, Telling Officer ‘Do You Know My Name?’ Unlikely To Help
By Aaron Crowe
Standing up for her man may cost actress Reese Witherspoon some cash and some dignity, after Witherspoon was arrested early Friday morning on a disorderly conduct charge in Georgia.
As a state trooper tested and later arrested her husband, James Toth, on suspicion of driving while intoxicated, she told the trooper “Do you know my name?” and “You’re about to find out who I am,” according to news reports.
Getting out of a car and arguing with an officer, including name dropping, is never a good idea, says David Diamond, a criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles who has represented celebrities, but not Witherspoon.
“That’s the part that gives her a problem because it makes it look like she’s trying to use her celebrity status,” Diamond says.
On the other side of the country on Friday, in Santa Monica, sportscaster Al Michaels was pulled over and arrested on suspicion of drunk driving. Michaels reportedly made an illegal U-turn near a DUI checkpoint.
Such cases offer lessons for all drivers, whether they star in Hollywood movies or not.
As Lindsay Lohan knows, talking to police can be a bad decision because it can lead to more charges, and a suspect can incriminate themself.
Witherspoon apologized Sunday for her actions, admitting she had “one drink too many” and saying that while she was frightened for her husband, it was no excuse for what she did. “I was disrespectful to the officer who was just doing his job,” she says. “The words I used that night definitely do not reflect who I am.”
A good attorney will try to get the misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge dismissed, Diamond says, perhaps by having her attend a set amount of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings first. The maximum penalties for misdemeanor convictions in Georgia are up to $1,000 in fines and a year in jail.
Or the charge can be negotiated down to an infraction, which is treated like a moving infraction and won’t give her a criminal record, he says.
Toth, who blew .139% on a sobriety test — above the .08% legal limit in Georgia — he could face the same type of maximum penalties if convicted. One year in jail and a $1,000 fine is the maximum for first-time DUI offenders in Georgia, Diamond says. Since 24 hours in jail is mandatory in Georgia for a DUI conviction, Toth could get off with time served, he says. Michaels had a .08 blood-alcohol level, which should be easier to dispute, he says.
“They’ll have to learn their lesson to behave themselves,” Diamond says of Witherspoon, Toth and Michaels, “but they’ll all probably have to pay a fine.”
The bigger issue for first-time DUI offenders is potentially losing their license for four months, which the DMV will decide at a hearing, he says.
Community service, and an alcohol risk reduction class to get his license back, could be in Toth’s future if convicted, says Christopher McCann, a criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles who specializes in DUI cases.
A DUI conviction can also lead to probation for a year, McCann says, which can include checking in with a probation officer, attending alcohol treatment meetings and avoiding other criminal charges.
The first offense conviction could increase insurance costs after the insurer learns about the offense, and the insurer could cancel the policy, he says. Once the driver’s license is suspended, the driver must get SR-22 insurance, which is reported to the DMV. If there are any lapses in coverage, the license could be suspended again.
Toth, who works as an agent in Hollywood, will likely want to avoid a high-profile case and will want to resolve the case the the minimum penalties or a reduced charge, McCann says.
“It would be unlikely that he gets diversion and gets the DUI allegations dropped altogether,” he says. “That would be too ‘sweet’ of a disposition and result in accusations of favorable conduct for Hollywood celebrities.”
For Witherspoon, a criminal conviction is unlikely, says McCann, who expects she’ll receive a “diversionary” offer of community service and/or being required to stay out of trouble for a certain amount of time.
“It would be highly unlikely that formal charges get filed and a prosecutor pursues a conviction,” McCann says. “Both her and the prosecutor want to avoid that kind of public scrutiny of her and the officer’s conduct.”
Disorderly conduct arrests are a legal way to get control of an out-of-control person by putting them in custody, and Witherspoon’s acting under the influence of alcohol and being upset that her husband was being arrested may have led to her overreacting and being arrested, McCann says.
“Officers are wary of passengers getting involved in traffic stops,” he says. “They pose as much or more danger because they can’t always be watched while the officers perform their investigative functions on the driver.”
While dropping her famous name didn’t get her out of trouble, one more thing that the police report says she said to the trooper has come true: “You’re about to be on national news,” she told him. Sadly, true for all involved.
Aaron Crowe is a journalist who covers auto insurance for CheapCarInsurance.net.