Smith to appeal DUI conviction

Updated: July 9, 2009, 2:37 PM ET
Associated Press

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- Former NFL star Bruce Smith was convicted of drunken driving Thursday by a judge who rejected his claim that old football injuries, not alcohol, were responsible for his poor performance on field sobriety tests.

Smith declined to answer reporters' questions after his trial in Virginia Beach General District Court. He promptly appealed the verdict to Virginia Beach Circuit Court, which set a hearing in the case for Aug. 27.

"We just hope for a better result in appealing," Smith's lawyer, Larry Cardon, told reporters.

Smith also was convicted of speeding and refusing to take an alcohol breath test. Judge Teresa McCrimmon gave Smith a 90-day suspended jail term and fined him $350 for DUI. She also suspended his driver's license for a year for refusing the breath test and fined him $90 for speeding.

The appeal is scheduled less than three weeks after Smith's Aug. 7 induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Smith, 46, ended a 19-year career with the Buffalo Bills and Washington Redskins as the NFL's all-time sacks leader. The defensive lineman played in 11 Pro Bowls and was a first-team All-Pro selection nine times before retiring after the 2003 season.

Cardon said during the trial that 11 knee surgeries during Smith's career made it difficult to complete sobriety tests that included walking a straight line heel-to-toe and standing for 30 seconds on one leg. Smith was stopped on Interstate 264 in Virginia Beach in May.

Smith, 46, could be heard telling Officer Bryan Womble about the operations in a videotape of the arrest, recorded by a camera mounted in the unmarked patrol car. "I'm a former athlete," Smith told Womble.

"I understand about your knees and everything," the officer said, adding that Smith didn't have to submit to the tests if he didn't want to.

The former Virginia Tech standout took the tests anyway, but continued to tell Womble about his bad knees.

"I know who you are. I know what you did in your career," Womble told Smith.

Smith also had trouble following Womble's hand movements with both eyes, but Cardon said that could have been caused by his client's multiple concussions or the glare of lights from traffic in the opposite lanes of the interstate.

Cardon also noted that while Womble reported a strong smell of alcohol, the officer testified that Smith's speech was not slurred and that he was cooperative. Cardon said there was insufficient evidence to convict.

But prosecutor Kristin L. Paulding said Smith's problems with the sobriety tests were not just physical -- he also had trouble following instructions. For example, Smith was told to walk nine steps and turn around, but he walked 14 and had to be told to stop.

She also noted that Smith was driving on a shoulder that was clearly marked as closed to traffic and was clocked at 73 mph in a 55 mph zone before he was pulled over. Smith told Womble he and two others had consumed a bottle and a half of wine at dinner.

The judge said there was enough evidence that Smith was impaired.

"Mr. Smith was obviously very cooperative, but he couldn't follow instructions," McCrimmon said.

Smith has had two previous DUI arrests. A 1997 conviction was later dismissed, and he was acquitted in another case in 2003. Smith's injuries were also raised as a defense in the 1997 case.


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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