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Legal Look: The Lance Armstrong Interview

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Eric Macramalla, TSN Legal Analyst
1/18/2013 2:17:34 AM
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When I sat down to watch Oprah Winfrey's interview of Lance Armstrong, I was looking to hear Armstrong say one thing.

He said it - and frankly he didn't waste much time getting to it.

I expected to hear Armstrong deny he took banned substances within the past five years, and specifically when he unretired in 2009 for two years. Armstrong made that denial, and for his legal team, this was probably one of the most important parts of the interview.

Here's the reason. The time limit to criminally prosecute someone for possession and distribution of steroids and banned substances (which is unlawful) is five years. So that means that Armstrong could admit to using banned substances back in 1999 and the early 2000s since he's comfortably outside the statute of limitations.

However, since the five-year limitation period has not expired in connection with his alleged drug use in 2009 and 2010, he could not admit to that. Effectively, Armstrong could admit to drug use, but he had to be careful associating it with a recent timeframe.

So, when Oprah asked him if he had used performance enhancing drugs in 2009 and 2010, he adamantly denied it, saying it was "not true" and that the last time, "I crossed the line…was 2005". This is despite USADA, the U.S. federal anti-doping agency, finding that it was not only likely that Armstrong used banned substances in 2009-10, but highly probable. In the view of USADA, Armstrong's test results provided a "compelling argument consistent with blood doping".

Overall, while Armstrong is not immune from criminal prosecution, his Oprah interview did not make things appreciably worse for him.

That's on the criminal side. However, on the civil side (suing for money), the interview hurt Armstrong because he incriminated himself. He admitted to using banned substances, bullying people and filing unsubstantiated lawsuits. In fact, when Oprah asked Armstrong if he had sued Emma O'Reilly, a masseuse for his cycling team who revealed in a book that Armstrong doped, his response was that he couldn't remember.

"To be honest, Oprah, we sued so many people I don't even," Armstrong said, then paused, "I'm sure we did."

His admission that he doped could well invite more civil lawsuits, while also encouraging current litigants to stay the course with their lawsuits against Armstrong.

SCA Promotions, a Dallas-based insurance company, paid Armstrong about $7.5 million in bonuses for his Tour de France wins in 2002, 2003 and 2004. SCA wants that money back on the basis that Armstrong breached his contract, which provided he could not dope. After watching the Oprah interview, SC may now have the incentive it needs to sue Armstrong.

In another case, the Sunday Times is looking to recover about $1.5 million it paid Armstrong to settle a defamation suit. The paper paid Armstrong that amount in 2006 to settle a case after it reprinted claims from a book that he took performance enhancing drugs. The interview only helps the case of the Sunday Times.

In yet another case, Floyd Landis is suing Armstrong and team managers for defrauding the U.S. government. Landis is alleging that they knowingly misled the government about taking performance enhancing drugs with a view to securing sponsorship from the U.S. Postal Service. On the representation that the team was clean, the U.S. Postal Service paid it $30.6 million between 2001 and 2004. If Armstrong and others lose this lawsuit, they could be ordered to pay back triple the amount paid under the contract, or about $100 million.

For Armstrong, this is all a bit of a legal minefield. He's unlikely to get any relief in the near future, and there is a possibility that he could find himself a lot lighter in the pocket book.

Eric Macramalla is TSN's Legal Analyst. He can be heard each week on TSN Radio 1050 and seen on SportsCentre and That's Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @EricOnSportslaw.

Lance Armstrong (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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