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TOWSON — Baltimore Ravens return specialist B.J. Sams was found not guilty of driving under the influence and negligent driving charges Tuesday afternoon in Towson district court.
Sams was found guilty of a lane violation, which carries a $90 fine, court costs and one point on his driving record.
"I’m not persuaded beyond a reasonable doubt that he drove while impaired," Judge Nancy Purpura said. "The burden of proof never moves from the state to the defense. It always rests with the state."
Sams, who was arrested Oct. 3 by a Maryland state police trooper after a driver alerted police that he was nearly hit by the football playerâ€™s Chevy Tahoe sport utility vehicle, has a probation before judgment on his record for a prior DUI charge.
That past incident since joining the Ravens raised the stakes significantly for this case in regards to potential punishment from law enforcement officials and under the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
Purpura said the state’s case was hurt by a lack of evidence because Sams wasn’t offered a Breathalyzer exam. Plus, a series of field sobriety tests weren’t captured completely by the state trooperâ€™s video.
Some of those sobriety test results were ruled inadmissible by the judge after the trooperâ€™s testimony was refuted by noted Georgia DUI expert Tony Corroto, who was paid $2,000 plus expenses to appear on Sams’ behalf. Corrotoâ€™s testimony was regarded as instrumental by the judge.
"He has been exonerated, and he’s excited about that," Samsâ€™ attorney, Andrew Alperstein, said. "I think there’s a tendency with professional athletes to assume because they’re charged and because they’ve been involved with something in the past or because of their lifestyle that they’re automatically guilty.
"We should all be cautious about that. I think itâ€™s fair to say anyone thatâ€™s exonerated on these serious charges is very happy that theyâ€™ve been found not guilty.â€
Sams, who was wearing a dark pinstriped suit, a pink shirt and a turquoise tie, didnâ€™t speak to reporters while leaving the courthouse. He smiled and hugged his lawyers, along with Ravens team employees and Corroto shortly after the verdict was rendered.
Alperstein called Ravens vice president of medical services Bill Tessendorf, assistant athletic trainer Mark Smith and director of team security Darren Sanders as defense witnesses.
"B.J. said at the beginning and we said that he had to go through a process," Ravens team spokesman Kevin Byrne said. "He went through it, and it’s good that he got to tell his side of the story. He can move on with his life now, which is a good thing for him. I’m happy for him.â€
Sams initially denied that he had been drinking after being pulled over, but later acknowledged to the trooper that he had a vodka and cranberry juice at 10 p.m. He was arrested after 2 a.m. near Greenspring Ave on I-695 and was released from the Golden Ring police barracks in Essex at 4 a.m. into Sandersâ€™ custody.
The trooper testified that Sams had a strong odor of alcohol on his breath and Sanders testified that he smelled alcohol on Sams when he drove him home.
However, the judge asserted that the smell of alcohol is a subjective matter.
â€œThereâ€™s no proven correlation between odor and blood alcohol level,â€ Purpura said. â€œThe presence of alcohol itself is not a crime.â€
The trooper testified that Sams put a handful of sunflower seeds in his mouth after being pulled over, opining that he did so to mask the scent of alcohol. The judge concluded that action didnâ€™t necessarily prove a â€œconsciousness of guiltâ€ or an intent to hide something.
Meanwhile, Tessendorf and Smith testified that Sams injured his ankle against the San Diego Chargers on Oct. 1 when he returned a punt for 17 yards and returned four kickoffs for 97 yards.
Although Sams informed the trooper that his ankle was injured during the arrest two days later, he was still asked to perform a series of field sobriety tests, including the heel-to-toe test. Sams wasnâ€™t listed on the injury report the following week against the Denver Broncos.
Corroto said the trooper didnâ€™t properly follow testing procedures and said that other tests should have been used in light of Samsâ€™ injury.
Under cross examination, the trooper said that Sams performed the tests to 90 percent proficiency.
â€œI find his performance in the field sobriety test to be pretty good,â€ Purpura said.
During closing arguments, Alperstein said that the trooper â€œtried too hard on the witness stand after arresting a celebrity.â€
Under new NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, the league has expanded its personal conduct policy and he has levied several lengthy suspensions. An NFL Security local represenative was in court today, monitoring the proceedings and reporting back to the league office.
When asked if he thought the league would still punish Sams even though he wasnâ€™t convicted, Alperstein replied: â€œIâ€™m not an NFL lawyer, Iâ€™m a criminal attorney.
You would have to ask the NFL questions to people smarter than me.â€
NOTE: It wasnâ€™t immediately clear if Sams, who fractured his ankle late in the season, will participate in a voluntary three-day minicamp that begins today.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland