Ambien is a popular sleep aid that helps people suffering from insomnia get to rest. Like any medication, there are an array of possible side effects. One such side effect that has gotten a considerable amount of media attention is when Ambien users perform tasks while still asleep. Those who experience this side effect do things while asleep and wake up unaware of what they have just done. Unfortunately, some of the things that people have done result in criminal charges. This has given rise to a defense, dubbed the "Ambien defense." Defendants using this strategy argue that because they were under the influence of Ambien at the time they committed the crimes, they were not in control over what they were doing at the time they committed the crime
This is exactly what a Catholic nun from Philadelphia argued in her case in April of 2016. Sister Kimberly Miller was arrested for DUI in New Jersey in November of 2015. She works as a teacher at Philadelphia's Little Flower Catholic High School. The evening of the arrest Miller had attended an event where she had "two small glasses of wine." After the event, she returned home to St. Veronica convent, which is located in North Philadelphia. Prior to going to sleep, Miller had a glass of altar wine and took 5mg of Ambien. She was prescribed the drug for chronic arthritis pain that would kept her up at night. She states that going to bed is the last thing she remembers before waking up in handcuffs. According to a fellow nun, Sister Francis Murray, when Miller left the building she set off an alarm, but didn't respond to it.
Miller was next spotted in New Jersey. According to witnesses, "Miller was driving erratically and pulled into the parking lot of a Meineke auto shop and backed into the front door while turning around, shattering the glass." A couple who saw her driving erratically notified police. When officers pulled Miller over, they administered a breath test which showed that the nun had a blood alcohol level of 0.16. Officers also found a corked bottle of wine in Miller's car, behind the driver's seat.
At trial Miller argued that she was "sleep-driving" and not in control of her actions at the time of her arrest. Dr. Fran Jengo stated that Miller "did not appear to have made the conscious decision to drive, and that her claims of not remembering her actions were common." In addition, the breath test results were thrown out because the officer did not follow the proper procedure when administering the test.
Prosecutors countered that the police report didn't mention anything about Ambien. Miller had told officers of other medications she took but had never mentioned the sleep aid. Additionally, the prosecutor stated that her actions were illegal because the statute doesn't look at intent, but rather at whether or not a driver is under the influence.
Ultimately, the judge sided with prosecutors and rejected Miller's Ambien defense. The judge found that "Miller was under the influence of alcohol, not the sleep medication." As a result, Miller's license will be suspended for 90 days. In addition, she will have to pay a fine, pay fees, and a DWI offender course. Upon leaving court, her attorney stated that Miller was very upset. He stated, "I think the conviction doesn't bother her as much as the judge not believing her."