Ponson Convicted of Driving While Impaired

Associated Press
Monday, December 12, 2005; 4:55 PM

BALTIMORE -- A judge sentenced former Baltimore Orioles pitcher Sidney Ponson to five days in jail Monday after convicting him of driving while impaired.

District Judge James Mann ordered Ponson to report Tuesday afternoon to the Central Booking and Intake Center in Baltimore, where he is expected to serve his sentence. Once the sentence is complete, he will not serve any time on probation.

The judge also fined Ponson $500, plus court costs and fees totaling less than $60.

Mann noted Ponson had two previous drunken driving charges, one in 1996 in Maryland and one in January in Florida.

"In light of this, the court cannot conclude anything but that some jail time is needed," Mann said.

Ponson, 29, did not talk during the 20-minute hearing except to tell Mann that he understood the proceedings. He left the courthouse without talking to reporters.

"Sidney deeply regrets any embarrassment to Peter Angelos, Mike Flanagan and the Orioles organization," Barry Praver, Ponson's agent and personal attorney, said after the hearing. Angelos is the team's owner and Flanagan is the Orioles' executive vice president.

Maryland Transportation Authority Police arrested Ponson on Aug. 25 on Interstate 95 in Baltimore. Authorities said Ponson was stopped for tailgating. He was charged with driving under the influence and driving while impaired.

The Orioles released him Sept. 2 for conduct violating terms of his contract.

As part of an agreement with prosecutors, he entered a not-guilty plea Monday. After a statement describing the incident was read aloud, Mann convicted Ponson of driving while impaired. The state declined to prosecute him on the second charge.

"It's my earnest hope that Mr. Ponson has gotten the message," Mann said.

Praver said Ponson's lawyers presented him with several options on how to respond to the charges, including declining the agreement with prosecutors in favor of a trial, and Ponson chose to accept the deal.

"The key thing is he didn't have to do probation, he didn't have to report. He could get on with his life," said Andrew Alperstein, a Baltimore attorney who represented Ponson in court. "It's not like he's kissing off Baltimore. He loved the fans, but he wanted to get on with his life."

Ponson spent 11 days in jail in his native Aruba stemming from a fight on a beach last Christmas Day.

He reached a plea bargain several weeks ago in Florida on a charge of driving under the influence and was sentenced to nine months' probation, Alperstein said. His driver's license was suspended as a result of that case.

Ponson completed an 30-day inpatient treatment program in Florida following the most recent arrest, said his other Baltimore lawyer, Arthur S. Alperstein.

Praver said there are teams that want Ponson.

"There is interest from multiple organizations. Sidney will be playing baseball next year," he said.

Meanwhile, Ponson will have a rare opportunity to compare 11 days in an Aruban jail with five days in a Baltimore institution.

Central Booking is a state-run institution troubled by overcrowding, violence and accusations of mismanagement.

In August, three former correctional officers were indicted on second-degree murder charges in connection with the death of a 51-year-old inmate who was beaten to death in his cell there.

Attorneys who regularly go inside have described horrific conditions: overcrowded cells, inmates napping under toilets, drug addicts shaking convulsively as they go into withdrawal, sick people without medications getting sicker.

For months before Smoot's died, many people held at the facility failed to get court hearings within 24 hours of their arrest, as required by law. That prompted a judge to issue a court order in April to release them if they didn't get a hearing in the required time.

In September, a city judge sharply criticised prison officials when she learned that a 19-year-old rabbi's son who had been sentenced to five years in prison was being held in protective custody at the facility. He was returned to the general prison population after the judge's rebuke.

Spokeswoman Barbara Cooper said no one had requested special treatment for Ponson although he has the right to make such a request after he is processed.

© 2005 The Associated Press