On August 28, the Atlanta Hawks' new head coach Mike Budenholzer was arrested on charges of driving under the influence.
With an impending court date set for October 15, should his arrest and subsequent misdemeanor DUI charge be cause for concern for the Hawks organization and its fans?
The initial reports of his arrest definitely served a black eye to his reputation and created a public relations fiasco for the team. However, there is good reason to believe in his proclaimed innocence.
Let’s take some time to examine the facts of case before we begin breaking everything down.
The facts of this case begin with the official incident report, which has been made public [linked below]. I encourage you to read it for yourself.
According to the arresting officer, Budenholzer was pulled over because the taillights on his Audi A8 were not on.
The officer noted that his eyes were "bloodshot and watery" and that he had a "strong odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from his breath."
By his own admission, Budenholzer stated that he had had one glass of wine about 15 minutes before he began driving. It was at this point that the officer requested that he take the field sobriety test as well as a breath test.
Before we get into the field sobriety tests, a quick review of Georgia laws.
Drivers have the right to refuse a field sobriety test. However, Georgia drivers are subject what is often considered “Implied Consent.” That means that, if an officer has probable cause to believe that a driver is under the influence and requests a chemical test be taken, refusal of such a test can be used as evidence against you.
Coach Budenholzer consented to the field sobriety test, to which the trooper gave him failing marks. However, he refused the breath test.
According to his attorney Michael Hawkins, the trooper demanded that he submit to a Breathalyzer. When he “asked to consult an attorney first, he was immediately arrested and charged with a DUI.”
According to Budenholzer and his attorney, after having conferred with Hawkins, he requested both breath and blood tests, but was refused.
After entering a plea of Not Guilty and being released on bond, he went to Piedmont Hospital—where he submitted to a blood alcohol test. His blood alcohol level was less than .01 percent, well below the legal limit of .08.
That is what we know to have happened.
Without any timely chemical testing, there is no definitive proof that he was in fact driving while intoxicated.
Sure, his refusal of a Breathalyzer can enact "implied consent" in Georgia, but he has no previous criminal record. He was likely unaware of those rules.
Furthermore, Budenholzer was not pulled over for a traffic violation. The officer did not make any notes about witnessing him drive recklessly, swerving or weaving. He was pulled over for a mechanical failure.
The officer noted that his eyes were watery and bloodshot, but that is subjective evidence at best. There are a number of possible causes for bloodshot or watery eyes.
In general, Coach Bud’s eyes seem to have a natural bloodshot appearance, as you might have noticed in many of the pictures from his introduction press conference. His eyes look quite pink and irritated.
The following is an explanation of red eyes according to information from the U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institute of Health website:
Bloodshot eyes appear red because the vessels in the surface of the white portion of the eye (sclera) become swollen. This may result from dry air, too much sun, dust, something in the eye, allergies, infection, or injury.
One common cause of a red eye is straining or coughing. This can lead to a bright red, dense bloody area on the white part of the eye. This is called a subconjunctival hemorrhage. Although this bloody area may appear alarming, it is a fairly common occurrence and of little significance. If you notice a bloody spot in one eye that doesn't hurt, but just looks bad, don't worry. It should clear up on its own within a week or two.
Eye infections or inflammation can occur, causinge redness as well as possible itching, discharge, pain, or vision problems:
- Blepharitis - Swelling of the eyelash along the edge of the eyelid.
- Conjunctivitis - Swelling or infection of the tissue that lines the eyelids and coats the surface of the eye (the conjunctiva). This is often referred to as "pink eye."
- Corneal ulcers - Ulcers on the outer covering of the eye, usually because of a bacterial or viral infection.
- Uveitis - Swelling of the uvea, which includes the iris, ciliary body, and choroid. This is often related to an autoimmune disorder, infection, or exposure to toxins. Often, only the iris is inflamed, which is called iritis.
Of course his breath would smell like alcohol, seeing as the last thing that he ingested prior to leaving his house was a glass of wine.
If what Budenholzer disclosed to his attorney is true, it’s rather galling that the officer would swiftly move to arrest someone simply because they requested legal consultation before submitting to a chemical test.
While the officer gave the Hawks’ coach failing marks on his field test, there those who would contend that field sobriety tests are faulty and inaccurate.
Two years ago, WSB-TV in Atlanta did a news report on field sobriety tests. Dr. Spurgeon Cole, a retired psychology professor from Clemson University, shared his skepticism of the tests.
I would never recommend anyone take a field sobriety test. It is designed to fail. It's designed to fail. There are no norms. There is no average score. We have no idea what the average person could do on the one leg with the heel to toe.
Greg Kane, M.D., published a series of scientific studies on the inaccuracy of field sobriety tests in Trial Talk Magazine. In the second installation, he posits:
The truth is “field sobriety test” validation studies don’t gather data on or do statistical analysis of field sobriety tests. They actually measure something else - the accuracy of officer arrest decisions. They do not gather data on or do a statistical analysis of what contribution, if any, FSTs make to officers’ arrest “accuracy.
That means that the increments of guilt revealed by the PPV science are not increments created by the FST. They are increments created by everything the officer does after he’s decided to include the driver in the validation study. And that means the increments are nothing but the upper limits of what FSTs might contribute - if they contribute anything at all...
If FSTs don’t work, how come do [sic] NHTSA validation studies validate them as ‘extremely accurate’?
David Zwanetz, a criminal defense attorney in Columbia, Md., has video explaining why drivers should refuse field sobriety tests.
A simple search of YouTube will yield a slew of results educating viewers on how to “beat” field sobriety tests. That being the case, one should ask: “If something can be beaten so easily (by people who take time to be educated on how to do so), can we really suggest that they are actually a good measurement of drunkenness?”
That’s not all.
While the fact that Budenholzer was denied the opportunity to prove his innocence by undergoing a chemical test still remains, there are studies that give plenty of reason to doubt the validity of such testing.
The National Motorists Association contests the validity of Breathalyzers, referencing studies that prove a 50 percent margin of error.
Additionally, a local lawyer from Alpharetta, Georgia calls into question the reliability of blood tests themselves.
There are many factors that can lead to unreliable blood alcohol test results. Some of the more common are:
- Medications—prescription and non-prescription—can influence the test outcome. In fact, some over-the-counter cough medications can skew the results. Anyone testing your blood should know what prescriptions you take.
- Accuracy of blood alcohol testing can vary greatly depending on the lab doing the testing. Law enforcement labs may not be nearly as accurate as a hospital lab because their procedures may vary.
- False high readings can occur if the blood sample sits around for a long time before being tested. Blood that coagulates or decomposes often reads much higher.
- People with diabetes or who have high blood ketones are subject to inaccurate blood test results.
The fact that Coach Budenholzer was even questioned—after being pulled over for a common mechanical failure—on the basis of mere suspicion, is evidence of systemic profiling that should be viewed as egregious.
It’s true that they generally arrest people who are actually impaired. But, their statistics don’t account for the volume of people who are pulled over and asked to perform various tests and are not impaired. So, how can we trust that their suspicions are 100 percent accurate?
In the statement that Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer released through his attorney, he apologized for the bad press and continued to proclaim his innocence.
I take my role as a leader very seriously and hold myself to a high standard. I apologize to the fans and to the Hawks organization for any negative attention this incident has brought upon my family and the organization while the legal process evolves and I contest these misdemeanor charges.
Common law dictates that citizens are innocent until proven guilty.
That being said, Budenholzer hasn't had his day in court yet. He deserves the right—as any U.S. citizen does—to be viewed as innocent until otherwise proven guilty by a court of law.
Coach Budenholzer’s court date, which is set for October 15, conveniently falls between two preseason games—October 13 in New Orleans and October 17 at home vs. San Antonio. This means that he will not miss any significant time during the preseason, which should be a relief to Atlanta fans.
His charges are concerning, as any legal matter should be.
At worst, if he should choose to enter either a plea of guilt or no contest, he walks away with a fine, mandatory defensive driving courses, community service and a likely two-game suspension from the NBA league office.
However, considering the lack of reliable evidence, the entire case against Budenholzer has been built on the subjective opinions of one officer. With good legal representation, he stands a good chance at maintaining his innocence—to which there should minimal, if any, consequences from the league offices in New York.