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Philadelphia nun convicted of DUI

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    Sister Kimberly Miller leaves the courtroom today after being sentenced for driving under the influence of alcohol.

PHILADELPHIA » A judge in Gloucester County, Pa., today convicted a Philadelphia nun of DUI, rejecting a claim she had been “sleep driving” under the influence of medication.

“The court finds the defendant was under the influence of alcohol,” Washington Township Municipal Court Judge Martin Whitcraft said in finding Sister Kimberly A. Miller guilty.

The judge suspended her license for 90 days and fined her $257 plus fees.

Miller had testified she had taken a sleeping pill and consumed a glass of altar wine and had no recollection of the Nov. 7 crash that led to her arrest.

Police alleged that she was intoxicated, had slurred speech and bloodshot eyes, and was staggering when she got out of her car. At the time of the accident, Miller was wearing her blue habit and black veil.

Defense lawyer Jeffrey Lindy said he was surprised by the verdict. He said Miller was obviously very upset.

“She’s in tears. She’s crying,” Lindy told reporters.

Lindy said Miller was especially disappointed that the judge said Miller’s testimony during the trial last week was not credible.

“She’s just very hurt by the judge not believing her. She’s a truth teller,” Lindy said.

No decision has been made on a possible appeal, Lindy said. The sisters from her convent will pay the fine if the case is upheld, he said.

The judge dismissed four lesser charges against Miller at the request of Prosecutor Scott Burns.

Miller, 41, a librarian and theology teacher at Little Flower High School for Girls in Philadelphia, was arrested after driving her Chevrolet Impala into an auto repair shop in Washington Township.

During a nearly six-hour trial last week before Whitcraft, her two lawyers offered what they described as “the Ambien defense.” They said Miller suffered an adverse reaction after taking the sedative that caused her to “sleep drive.”

The so-called “Ambien defense” has been used for about 10 years by lawyers around the country with mixed success to argue that clients were not at fault for crashes and other incidents, including some violent crimes.

Miller’s defense argued that she has a history of sleepwalking since childhood that stems from post-traumatic stress. She also suffers from chronic arthritis and insomnia, which aggravates her condition, they said.

Miller said she lost four hours of her life after going to bed at St. Veronica’s, the North Philadelphia convent where she has lived for 17 years. Earlier that night, Miller said, she attended a book fair in Haverford, where she had “two small glasses of wine.”

When she woke up, she was handcuffed at the Washington Township police station, Miller said. She had traveled at least 20 miles from the convent.

Police charged Miller with driving under the influence, reckless driving and leaving the scene of an accident. Her blood alcohol level was .16, twice the legal limit for New Jersey.

Whitcraft tossed the blood alcohol test results on a technicality, ruling police failed to observe Miller continuously for 20 minutes before administering the Breathalyzer test.

A passer-by captured video as Officer Paul Crozier led Miller through a field sobriety test. Miller failed two tests and declined a third, he said. He testified that Miller’s eyes “were watery and droopy.”

Police said a half-empty corked bottle of wine was in the backseat of her car. A defense witness said she gave Miller the wine bottle at the book fair and it had been half consumed there.

Miller was placed on administrative leave from Little Flower by the Philadelphia Archdiocese.


©2016 Philadelphia Daily News

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