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.
Budenholzer had only a brief statement following the verdict reached by a six-person jury that deliberated for two hours.
“Since the onset of this situation, I have maintained by innocence,” Budenholzer said. “Very pleased with the ruling of the jury. Very appreciative of the jury, the judge, my attorney Michael Hawkins. Very grateful for my family and the Hawks organization for their support throughout this process. I’d also like to thank those people who went to extra lengths to help me through this process. I’m very appreciative of the jury’s decision.”
An elated Budenholzer then left the court building.
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.