A Philadelphia-area nun made headlines last week when she crashed her vehicle into a local auto repair shop and was charged with driving under the influence. Sister Kimberly Miller doesn’t fit the normal image of a drunk driver—but this nun on the run faces DUI charges anyway.
The Catholic school teacher asserts that she had a glass of wine before bedtime—and took a dose of the prescription drug Ambien to combat insomnia. She later woke up in police custody, and claims to have no recollection of leaving home or crashing.
While her fate will be decided by the court, the fact that even a nun can be arrested for a DUI highlights the fact that anyone who drinks and drives can face charges for their actions. An examination of Sister Kimberly’s story also highlights the big impact that prescription drugs like Ambien can have on intoxication.
Anyone can be charged with a DUI
It doesn’t really matter who you are, who you work for, or who you know, anyone who drives after drinking risks being pulled over for a DUI.
And nuns aren’t the only unlikely suspects who make the news for DUI charges. An administrative law judge with the Social Security Administration recently got arrested for a DUI in Hillsborough County. Glen Watkins was seen striking a parked car before being pulled over and arrested. Back in 2006, Patrick Kennedy was arrested for driving under the influence of a prescription drug after he took an Ambien and drove his car into a security barricade on Capitol Hill.
So whether you’re a judge or a Kennedy or a nun, you risk a DUI arrest if you drink or take medications and drive.
Medications that boost the impact of alcohol
As Sister Miller learned, some prescription medications, including those to help ease insomnia, allergies, pain, or restless leg syndrome can increase the effects that alcohol has on your system, even hours after you take the medication. Some of these medications may also mimic the effects of impairment so it is better to stay off the road entirely when you take a medication with a driving warning on it.
You should avoid drinking and mixing medications, especially with Ambien. There are numerous horror stories of people on Ambien waking up in a hospital or jail with no idea how they got there.
Unfortunately for Sister Kimberly, the active ingredient in Ambien (Zolpidem) is listed as a controlled substance under Pennsylvania law. So driving while impaired by Ambien is still illegal in Pennsylvania.
Not so for Florida. To prove a DUI in Florida the State has to show that you were impaired by alcohol or a controlled substance listed in chapter 893.03, Florida Statutes. Ambien’s active ingredient is not listed as a controlled substance in Florida!
You cannot be convicted of a DUI in Florida if you have only taken Ambien. Of course, taking Ambien AND drinking complicates your otherwise rock solid defense. Also, just because it’s not illegal does not make it a good idea.
What to do if you get charged with a DUI
The best way to avoid dealing with the legal consequences and embarrassment of a DUI is to avoid driving under the influence entirely. Understanding how prescription and over the counter medications can interact with alcohol can also help you avoid making headlines like the people highlighted in this post.
Your profession or place in the community won’t matter if you drink and drive, you can still get a DUI. If you have been charged with driving under the influence, it is important that you retain an attorney right away. A DUI carries severe legal consequences and can impact your life for years to come.