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Church leader pleads not guilty to DUI-related charges

Many of our Baltimore readers have heard about the charges against Episcopalian bishop Heather Cook, who is accused of killing a bicyclist back in December while driving under the influence of alcohol. In total, there are 13 charges against Cook, including driving under the influence, leaving the scene of an accident, and automobile manslaughter. The charges carry a combined total penalty of 20 years in prison.

According to law enforcement officials, alcohol wasn’t the only factor in the accident. The bishop had apparently also been sending text messages at the time of the crash. A blood alcohol test reportedly registered a blood alcohol content of almost three times the legal limit. Clearly, the accusations are serious. 

At her first appearance in court last week, Cook effectively pleaded not guilty to the charges by accepting a pre-trial court date of June 4. It isn’t known exactly what Cook’s legal strategy will be in the case. It could be that she intends to plead guilty to some charges but not to others in order to resolve factual or legal issues at trial. Whatever the reasons for her not guilty plea, she deserves her day in court.

This, of course, can be a difficult thing to acknowledge for those who sympathize with suffering family members. From a criminal defense perspective, though, ensuring that defendants have the opportunity to put the evidence to the test helps ensure that the outcome of their case is based on the facts rather than the whims of prosecutors and the judgments of the public, which are often condemning. 

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