ELLICOTT CITY – Convinced that Baltimore Ravens linebacker Sergio Kindle has taken serious steps through treatment since his arrest for driving while under the influence of alcohol, a judge rejected prosecutors’ recommendation that the NFL player be sentenced to a month in jail.
Kindle pleaded guilty to driving while under the influence Tuesday in Howard County District Court, avoiding jail time as he was given credit for five days time served last week in a Maryland treatment facility.
Howard County District Court Judge Edward Axel sentenced Kindle to two years of unsupervised probation, suspended all but five days of a one-year jail sentence and waived a mandatory $1,000 fine. He sternly warned Kindle that any violation of his probation will earn him a year in jail.
Kindle, 23, was ordered to abstain from alcohol and must attend one to two self-help sessions per week.
"Often we forget that there are significant consequences and collateral consequences that flow from one’s arrest," Axel said to Kindle, who missed his entire rookie season with a fractured skull. "Clearly, you have faced challenges in the past year. Incarceration is not appropriate given all of the circumstances and the treatment you’ve sought and received."
Kindle is classified under the NFL’s substance-abuse policy as a Stage II offender and is now subject to NFL discipline under the personal conduct policy.
Axel rejected the state attorney’s recommendation that Kindle get 30 days in jail, noting that the former second-round draft pick from the University of Texas had voluntarily sought help at his own expense since his arrest last December and continued treatment during the NFL lockout when it was no longer mandatory.
"He’s delighted with the judge’s sentence," said Kindle’s lawyer, Warren Alperstein. "He is eager to put this behind him, but certainly recognizes the need to continue to address the issues that caused him to be here."
Kindle voluntarily spent five days last week at the Right Turn of Maryland facility in Owings Mills.
Kindle declined interview requests after the hearing as he exited from a side door to the parking lot, but told the judge: "I’m very remorseful for my actions. I am held to a higher standard and people look up to me. I see that it’s a problem and I’m here to get it treated. I want to continue to address this as long as need be."
Following the judge’s verdict, Kindle hugged his lawyer and Ravens director of security Darren Sanders.
The state’s attorney noted Kindle’s high blood alcohol content of 0.17, and introduced a statement from the arresting officer that said Kindle was swerving and speeding in his Cadillac on Dec. 26.
According to the police report, Kindle had a strong odor of alcohol on his breath, had bloodshot, glassy eyes, slurred speech, admitted to having a few drinks at a Washington nightclub and performed poorly during field sobriety tests prior to being arrested.
Kindle was previously convicted of driving while under the influence in 2007 in Texas and was sentenced to three days in jail. In a separate incident, he was written a ticket for leaving the scene of an accident when he crashed his car into an apartment building. He later admitted he was texting while driving.
Howard County state’s attorney Dario J. Broccolino expressed disappointment with Tuesday’s verdict.
"People need to get the message that a second-time offender should have some more serious sanctions imposed on him," Broccolino said. "I don’t care if he’s a football player. I’m disappointed that the judge’s sentence didn’t follow our recommendation. We think our recommendation was more appropriate than what was actually imposed, but that’s the judge’s call. The entire sentence was lenient. End of story."
"Punishment is necessary," said assistant state attorney Meghan Skaggs, adding that she believes Kindle lacks respect for Maryland laws as a two-time offender. "In-patient treatment is not a jail cell."
Kindle suffered a hairline fracture of his skull when he fell down two flights of stairs last July days before training camp.
The Ravens are more optimistic now that Kindle may play football again based on the diagnosis of several neurological specialists.
"He’s working very hard to get back on the football field," Alperstein said. "He’s doing very well with respect to that. He’s in very good shape health-wise. Once the lockout ends, we’ll have further clarification as to his ability to resume football.
"We’re very optimistic based on what we know and what we’ve heard that he’ll be able to play professional football again. He like all the other Ravens players are eager to get back on the football field."
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome recently said he’s encouraged that Kindle will eventually play football again.
"Well, Sergio has made a lot of progress from the time he fell down the stairs," Newsome said during a conference call with season ticket holders. "Right now, it’s still in medical hands. We are very optimistic that there may be an opportunity for him to get back on the field. When will that happen? We’re not sure. We’re very optimistic that Sergio will get back on the field at some point."
Kindle was pulled over by police at 4:09 a.m. in December, and he was issued citations for driving under the influence of alcohol, failure to obey traffic control devices and speeding.
Kindle was stopped near Rt. 32 in Savage and was given a ticket for driving 70 mph in a 55 mph zone.
"First and foremost, I would apologize," Kindle told Ravens24x7.com the day following the incident. "I don’t want to put the organization’s name in a negative light due to my actions. I made a mistake by driving. I don’t know what’s going to happen or how they’re going to handle that."
When asked how much he had to drink, Kindle replied: "It wasn’t much, but I guess it was enough. I guess it was enough for me to fail a Breathalyzer."
Under Maryland law, Alperstein said that Kindle had to serve at least five days for his second DWI conviction within the past five years.
"I think what Judge Axel did is very fair and reasonable," Alperstein said. "Judge Axel recognized that not only was he remorseful, but he was taking significant steps to address the issues that caused him to be here."
Kindle was signed to a one-year, $320,000 contract for the rookie minimum last fall that included no signing bonus. He was retained as an exclusive-rights free agent for next season.
During the hearing, Alperstein said that Kindle has experienced financial difficulties due to his medical bills and the NFL lockout.
"He has in many respects more of an incentive to abide by the probation than many others because he has not had his payday yet," Alperstein said. "If he does something to jeopardize a new contract or his ability to remain playing it will not only cause significant repercussions from the criminal justice system here in Maryland, but also his ability to play football anywhere in the NFL."