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Former Buc can go to trial in drug case

A judge has ruled that a former Tampa Bay Buccaneer sentenced to 15 years in prison on cocaine trafficking charges will be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea and go to trial.

Don Smith, a former Bucs running back who scored a 1991 Super Bowl touchdown for the Buffalo Bills, pleaded guilty last year to charges that he bought cocaine in a parking lot at Waters and Florida avenues in 1993. Smith, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison as part of a plea deal, recently asked to withdraw his plea, claiming his attorney at the time of the plea, Miriam Sumpter, had been ineffective in representing him and had not properly informed him about what could happen.

In an order dated Oct. 31, Circuit Judge Debra Behnke ruled that Smith, 34, can withdraw his plea because there is evidence he did not fully understand the consequences.

"The court finds there is a reasonable probability that the outcome of the proceeding would have been different had Defendant been correctly informed of the consequences of entering a plea of guilty," the judge wrote in her order.

The judge found that Sumpter told Smith he could have been sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison if he was convicted at trial. He actually faced a maximum of 30 years, the judge found.

Also, Sumpter had not spoken to Smith's previous attorney about the state's original plea offer of five years in prison when he first went to trial in 1994, according to the judge's order. Smith went to trial, was found guilty and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. But a judge granted him a new trial because a document listing the official charges against him had not been sent back to the jury room for deliberations.

Smith's current attorney, Rick Escobar, said Smith will now enter a not guilty plea and prepare for trial.

"We're back to square one," Escobar said.