It took a suburban New York jury less than two hours yesterday to acquit human rights activist Kerry Kennedy of a misdemeanor charge of drugged driving after she accidentally took a sleeping pill instead of her thyroid medicine.
Kennedy, the former wife of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the daughter of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and niece of President John F. Kennedy, had taken the wrong medication, then drove her Lexus SUV erratically on July 13, 2012. She hit a tractor-trailer on a highway in Westchester County before she was found, slumped over her steering wheel on a local road.
According to media reports from the courtroom, Kennedy hugged and clasped hands with her lawyers as a six-person jury cleared her of driving while impaired, a misdemeanor. She had faced up to a year in jail if convicted.
Because of Kennedy’s family and her own celebrity, the trial drew attention from the media for what would normally have been an unremarkable incident. The trial lasted four days.
Throughout Kennedy insisted what had happened was an accident and not a crime.
Kennedy testified that she didn’t remember anything that happened that day as she swerved out of her lane, hit a tractor-trailer and continued to the next exit, where she was found disoriented, according to witnesses. Police said she failed several sobriety tests at the scene but passed several tests a few hours later at a police station.
“If I realized I was impaired, I would have pulled over,” Kennedy told the jury.
A few days later, Kennedy said her doctors believed the incident was caused by a seizure, stemming from a brain injury early in her life. Then blood tests found a small amount of zolpidem, a sleeping drug.
Both sides agreed that Kennedy had taken the sleeping aid unintentionally, mistaking it for her daily thyroid medication. The trial centered on whether or not she realized she was impaired and should have stopped.
Despite the pill mix-up, “she is responsible for the chain of events that happened after that,” prosecutor Doreen Lloyd said in her summation.
Kennedy’s defense introduced a medical journal article saying that people who take zolpidem frequently don’t recognize their impairment. Kennedy’s lawyer, Gerald Lefcourt, said the drug “hijacks your ability to make decisions.”