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Court: Woman’s DUI stands

Three judges on the Pennsylvania Superior Court have affirmed that they cannot substitute their judgment for that of a trial judge when it comes to determining the credibility of testimony and evidence presented against an Altoona woman convicted 16 months ago of driving under the influence.

Blair County Judge Wade A. Kagarise sentenced 50-year-old Lori Ann Chapman to probation for six months after finding her guilty of first offense DUI — general impairment — careless driving and operating a vehicle without a valid inspection.

The judge, during a bench trial on Sept. 7, 2018, returned not guilty verdicts on charges of speeding, disregarding a traffic lane and failure to use a seat belt.

Chapman’s Blair County attorney Edward J. Ferguson appealed the guilty verdicts and the sentence to the Superior Court, contending they were not supported by sufficient evidence and were against the weight of the evidence.

Judges Jacqueline O. Shogan, Maria McLaughlin and Kate Ford Elliott on Tuesday upheld Kagarise’s rulings and his six-month probationary sentence.

The three-judge panel ruled that the defense had waived its claim that there wasn’t enough evidence presented to convict Chapman because it failed to identify what elements of the crime that it was challenging.

Instead, the panel turned its attention to the question of whether the judge had abused his discretion in finding there was enough evidence to convict Chapman of the offenses.

The Superior Court stated that the defense must go beyond showing the trial judge made an error of judgment but must determine the “judgment is manifestly unreasonable” or there is a showing the judge’s decision was based on partiality, prejudice, bias or ill-will.

The defense in the Chapman case contended the evidence did not show the defendant when stopped by a state police trooper on July 14, 2017, was “incapable of safe driving.”

The appeals court opinion concluded the defense was asking the judges to reweigh the evidence and reach a different conclusion than that of the trial judge.

“The trial court, as fact-finder, had the duty to determine the credibility of the testimony and evidence presented at trial.

“Appellate courts cannot and do not substitute their judgment for that of the fact-finder,” the opinion stated.

The opinion concluded that the judges discerned no abuse of discretion on the part of the trial judge.

State court records show Chapman was stopped by state police along Sylvan Oaks Drive, Frankstown Township.

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