Atlanta Hawks coach found not guilty of DUI


Almost three years after his arrest for DUI, Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer was found not guilty this week by a Fulton County jury.

From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Mike Budenholzer was found not guilty of driving under the influence less safe, a charge that the Hawks head coach faced for 34 months, by a Fulton County State Court jury on Monday.

Budenholzer testified on his own behalf on the final day of the trial that lasted four days. He was found guilty on a charge of defective or no tail lights and was fined $209.75, a total of $150 plus fees. The two charges stemmed from an arrest on Aug. 28, 2013, just months after he was hired by the Hawks…

Former Hawks general manager Danny Ferry testified for the defense on Monday. Ferry had spent much of the afternoon with Budenholzer as the two scouted potential sites for the team’s training camp. Following the day, they joined Ferry’s wife and two friends at Buckhead restaurant Local 3 for dinner. Ferry testified that he and Budenholzer ordered two glasses of wine but neither finished the second serving. Budenholzer repeated told the arresting officer, Trooper J. Nelms, that he only had one glass of wine.

After leaving the restaurant, Ferry dropped Budenholzer off at his car in a nearby parking lot. Budenholzer was pulled over shortly after on his way back to the hotel he lived in early after his hire. He was stopped by Nelms for driving without his lights at 10:30 p.m. at the intersection of 10th Street and Crescent Avenue in Midtown.

The defense argued the lights were turned off by the hotel valet and the Budenholzer had driven in a well-lit parking lot and roads before the stop.

Budenholzer was asked to take several field sobriety tests. Video of the arrest showed that Budenholzer noticeably wobbled during two of the tests. He admitted on the stand that there were “examples of imbalance.” Budenholzer said the reason for his trouble with the tests was nervousness and ankle and foot injuries suffered when he was a basketball player early in his career. The prosecution argued that a former player and head coach of an NBA team should not be adversely affected by such a stressful situation.

The arresting officer testified earlier in the trial that he noted Budenholzer’s eyes were red and glassy. The defense called Budenholzer’s San Antonio-based eye doctor who testified that he has a condition that causes red eyes. Budenholzer admitted he has very rarely use prescribed eye drops for his condition.

Budenholzer declined to take a breathalyzer test on scene and was arrested. Budenholzer asked to call Ferry for counsel before taking the test. He also testified that he was told while living in Texas and working for the Spurs to never take a breathalyzer test.

Budenholzer was able to reach Ferry after several tries following his arrest. Ferry testified he told Budenholzer: “Bud, take the test. You’re not f-ing drunk.”

Budenholzer then when to officers at the jail and requested any test – breath, blood or urine. A test was never administered.

Budenholzer maintain during his testimony that he was not impaired or was his ability to drive negatively affected by the alcohol consumed at dinner.

Also testifying on Monday was now retired Captain K.G. Hinton of the Atlanta Corrections Department. He was the morning watch commander on the day of the arrest. He testified that he did not smell alcohol and that Budenholzer did not appear drunk.

Hinton was to testify on Thursday but failed to appear in court. He was arrested and faces a contempt of court charge from Judge Diane Bessen, who admonished Hinton before he was dismissed.

Following closing arguments the jury received the case at 3:22 p.m. After some deliberation, the jury of four men and two women asked several questions and wanted to see the video of the arrest again. They returned for deliberations at 5 p.m. and sent word they had reached a verdict 20 minutes later.

Budenholzer faced up to a year in jail, as much as a $1,000 fine, a driver’s license suspension and community services for a first-time offense. He also faced a likely suspension from the NBA.

Task Force Reports highlights problems with IL court fees

I have been a practicing attorney since 1994.  In that time, the cost of filing a civil lawsuit has gone up over 50%, with the additional costs going to fund the court system.

But far worse has been the exponential rise in court costs that are taxed on criminal defendants.  For example, in 1994, a typical Chicago DUI defendant would get a fine in the amount of $200 or $300 plus a $5 “spinal fund fee.”  Over the years, additional fees have been added, supposedly to pay for clerks, state’s attorneys, police, emergency services, etc. In 2016,  a typical defendant in a Chicago case pays an additional $1,339 in costs, in addition to fines.  Since these costs are now so high, they are often not given a “base fine” but still the total fines, fees and costs are over $1,000 more today than they were 20 years ago.  That is an increase of 333%.

It is no coincidence that the rise of these fines began after George H.W. Bush was hammered for breaking his “no new taxes” pledge.  Ever since, politicians in Illinois have found it much easier to raise additional income through regressive fines and sales taxes (probably the biggest increase over the last 20 years has been on cigarette taxes, even though smokers are addicted to the product and the demographics of smokers tend skew towards low income individuals).

These costs are applied regardless of a person’s income, so that they hit hardest on the poor.  Furthermore, the courts are not allowed to waive these costs or allow the defendant to work it off by doing community service.

The Illinois Statutory Court Fee Task Force has issued a report about this growing problem.

In their report they found four key problems:

  1.  The nature and purpose of assessments have changed over time, leading to a byzantine system that attempts to pass an increased share of the cost of court administration onto the parties to court proceedings.
  2. Court fines and fees are constantly increasing and are outpacing inflation
  3. There is excessive variation across the state in the amount of assessments for the same type of proceedings.
  4. The cumulative impact of the assessments imposed on parties to civil lawsuits and defendants in criminal and traffic proceedings imposes severe and disproportionate impacts on low- and moderate-income Illinois residents.

Their recommendations;

  1. The Illinois General Assembly should enact a schedule for court assessments that promotes affordability and transparency.
  2. The General Assembly and the Supreme Court should authorize amendments to the current civil fee waiver statute and related Supreme Court Rule, respectively, to provide financial relief from assessments in civil cases to Illinois residents living in or near poverty.
  3. The General Assembly should authorize a uniform assessment schedule for criminal and traffic case types that is consistent throughout the state.
  4. The General Assembly and the Supreme Court should authorize the waiver or reduction of assessments, but not judicial fines, imposed on criminal defendants living in or near poverty.
  5. The General Assembly and the Supreme Court should modify the process by which fines for minor traffic offenses are calculated under Supreme Court Rule 529.
  6. The General Assembly should routinely consult a checklist of important considerations before proposing new assessments, and should periodically consult the checklist in reviewing existing assessments.

I hope the legislature gives the Task Force’s report due consideration and implements their suggestions.

U.S. Supreme Court issues split decision in DUI refusal cases

Today the United States Supreme Court issued its Opinion in three consolidated cases that dealt with states that criminalize anyone who is arrested for a DUI and refuses to submit to a blood or breath test (Birchfield v. North Dakota).

The short version of it is that the Court did not find a problem with state laws that make it a crime to refuse a breath test.  The Court found that a breath test falls within the right of law enforcement to conduct a search subject to arrest and that one’s right to bodily integrity or to avoid self-incrimination were not significantly affected enough to overcome this.

However, the Court found that blood tests are a significant invasion of one’s right to bodily integrity and privacy, and that states could not require warrantless blood draws in DUI cases, except in exceptional circumstances.

Currently, Illinois does not criminalize breath test refusals, however, it does impose a license suspension of one year for first offenders and three years for repeat offenders who refuse to submit to breath, blood or urine testing subsequent to a DUI arrest.  However, now that the Supreme Court has ruled that it is permissible, perhaps that will change.

Personally, I feel that it is deep within our traditions to say no to government, to insist on our bodily integrity, to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures and to have the right to refuse to provide evidence that may incriminate ourselves.  I feel that this opinion, like so many when it comes to DUI, ignores our legal history and tradition, and ignores the important Constitutional protections that makes America the freest nation in the world, merely to make it easier to convict DUI defendants.  This approach is short-sighted.  I hope that our Illinois legislators don’t take this opportunity to further chip away out our freedom and liberty.

DUI Strike Force to target Bridgeport, Ogden this weekend

Last week, the Chicago Police Department’s DUI Strike Force was responsible for 129 citations.  One of them was for DUI.  Here is the link to their press release.

Yes, one.

Obviously, this is a big waste of police resources and a big source of harassment for motorists.

Nevertheless, they are back in force again this weekend.

From DNAInfoChicago (Kelly Bauer, reporting):

Police will crack down on drunken drivers in the Bridgeport-based Deering District this weekend.

Police will lead a DUI Strike Force Patrol from 7 p.m. Friday to 3 a.m. Saturday.

Officers will look for drivers who are drunk, speeding, not wearing their seat belts and other violations.

Oddly enough, this is not on the CPD’s official web site.  However, they do have a press release on their site about another patrol the following day:

The Chicago Police Department will be conducting a DUI Strike Force Patrol in the Ogden (10th) District this weekend. The DUI Strike Force Patrol will commence at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, June 11, 2016 and end at 3:00 a.m. on Sunday, June 12, 2016.

Roger Clinton, brother of former President, arrested for DUI



From NBC Chicago:

The younger brother of former President Bill Clinton was arrested on suspicion on DUI Sunday in Redondo Beach, California, according to police.

Jail records show Clinton, 59, of Torrance, remained in custody Monday morning. He was released on $15,000 bond.

He was arrested after a “concerned citizen” called police Sunday night to report a possible DUI driver, according to a statement from the Redondo Beach Police Department. The caller reported the vehicle traveling south on Pacific Coast Highway in an “erratic manner.”

The driver followed the vehicle until police stopped the car near Torrance Boulevard and Prospect Avenue.

A court appearance was scheduled for Sept. 2. It was not immediately clear whether Clinton had obtained an attorney.

The arrest of Hillary Clinton’s brother-in-law came two days before the California primary in which the former secretary of state is locked in a tight race with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Roger Clinton, the former president’s half brother, was also arrested in 2001 on suspicion of DUI in Hermosa Beach.

He was pardoned in January 2001 by President Bill Clinton on charges stemming from a 1985 arrest for distribution of cocaine.

State that leads nation in wrongful convictions passes bill to make them more plentiful

In a rational world, when a state leads the nation in wrongful convictions, and has spent over 150 million dollars in payouts for those wrongfully convicted, it should be working on improving its forensic science, not trying to cover it up.

But then again, this is Illinois.

From ABC News:

Nine months after the I-Team uncovered a pattern of forensic failures in the Illinois state crime lab, the general assembly has passed a new law that could keep such information from the public.

The I-Team found a culture of law and disorder at Illinois state police crime labs last fall. We obtained internal audits and reports that revealed blood and urine testing errors and bad testing methods that jeopardized criminal cases. Now, legislation headed to Governor Rauner would allow state police officials to make up their own rules and keep such information from defendants and the public.

 “It’s a sheep in wolves clothing,” said defense attorney Don Ramsell.

Wheaton attorney Don Ramsell regularly subpoenas test results and data from here at the Illinois state crime lab when he defends motorists charged with drunken driving.

Under a new law passed by the Illinois House yesterday, Ramsell says state police will be able to withhold some of the most crucial crime lab information. Including, he says, the kinds of mistakes uncovered by the I-Team last year. These mistakes included: test samples switched, names that didn’t match, wrongly run vials of evidence, general inaccuracies, incorrect methods and destruction of evidence.

“It’s an attempt by the Illinois state police crime lab to try to limit the amount of information they have to turn over to the defense. This way they can hide whatever mistakes errors or method problems that you and the I-Team discovered last year,” said Ramsell.

The forensic failures discovered by the I-Team last fall appeared to put criminal cases in jeopardy and raised the possibility that charges and convictions would have to be thrown out due to faulty lab tests.

But the legislation headed to the governor’s desk would allow state crime lab officials to insulate themselves from future failures.

Ramsell says they will do this by keeping the information under wraps.

“The purpose of the law is to prevent the defense attorneys from getting any of the information we have been able to get in the past. They are going to try to set up rules so the mistakes and errors don’t become the types of information they have to turn over any more,” said Ramsell.

Ramsell says this would be the first law in the u.s. Allowing a police crime lab to decide what information to provide to defendants and attorneys. The Illinois state police did not respond to our questions about their role in getting the legislation passed, but following our original reporting the state police director defended crime lab testing methods.

No word on Wednesday on how Gov. Rauner looks at this, but the bill will be on his desk.

For more information on this legislation, click here.