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Bruce Smith convicted of drunken driving

September 2, 1997

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) _ Buffalo Bills defensive end Bruce Smith was convicted today of drunken driving and was given a 30-day suspended jail sentence.

Last year’s NFL defensive player of the year was fined $250 and his license was suspended for one year.

He also was convicted of refusing to take a breath test. His license was suspended on that charge for an additional 90 days.

Smith’s lawyer, Larry Cardon, said the convictions will be appealed to Circuit Court, and an Oct. 23 trial date was set.

Smith pleaded innocent to both charges. Cardon said Smith suffers from a sleep disorder and that was why he was asleep behind the wheel of his car when he was arrested at 6:21 a.m. July 27 in his hometown of Virginia Beach.

Cardon also said Smith’s four knee operations caused him to fail a field sobriety test in which the officer required him to stand on one leg.

At today’s proceeding, a chair was provided at the request of Cardon so Smith could sit, rather than stand, before Judge John B. Preston. Cardon said Smith was ``a little banged up″ from Sunday’s game.

The nine-time Pro Bowl selection had two sacks in the Bills’s 34-13 loss to Minnesota on Sunday.

Smith did not speak and left the court without talking to reporters.

The arresting officer, A.M. Fletcher, testified that Smith seemed unconscious when she knocked on the window of his 1996 Mercedes as it was stopped in a traffic lane with the engine running. She said she asked him several times if he was OK before finally getting a response.

Fletcher said Smith told her several times that he wanted to go home.

She said that she noticed a strong odor of alcohol.

Cardon presented a doctor’s report that Smith suffers from sleep apnea, a recurrent halting of breath that can wake sufferers repeatedly or, in rare instances, suffocate them. ``It would be an explanation ... for the very hard time she had getting him up,″ Cardon said.

Smith’s appearance in Virginia Beach General District Court came two days after he became the highest-paid player in Bills’ history. Smith signed a six-year contract worth $28.2 million on Sunday. The deal guarantees he will finish his career with the Bills, who selected him first in the 1985 draft.

Last year, Smith was selected the NFL’s defensive player of the year for the second time in his career after he recorded 13 1/2 sacks, 120 tackles and 54 quarterback pressures. He also blocked three field goals.

Smith was suspended for the first four games of the 1988 season for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

NFL players convicted in alcohol-related violations are subject to fines _ typically one-half of one game check.

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