Kerry Kennedy Found Not Guilty On Drugged Driving Charges

By McCarton Ackerman 02/28/14

The daughter of Robert F. Kennedy and ex-wife of Governor Andrew Cuomo was treated just like any other person arrested for DUI, said the Westchester County district attorney.

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After 20 months of buildup, it took jurors only an hour to find Kerry Kennedy not guilty on charges of driving while impaired. The daughter of Robert F. Kennedy and former wife of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo faced up to a year in jail on the charges, but the acquittal was swiftly handed down after a five-day trial.

Kennedy, 54, was arrested in July 2012 after hitting a tractor trailer with her SUV on a highway in Westchester County. She was later found slumped over her steering wheel and with her car stalled, the result of swallowing Zolpidem, a generic form of the sleeping pill Ambien. Kennedy insisted that she accidentally took the pill after mistaking it for thyroid medication and didn’t realize her mistake until after the accident took place.

She faced up to a year in jail if convicted, but many felt prosecutors were trying to make an example of her based on her last name. There are 2,500 DUI cases in Westchester County, but the bulk of them typically result in a fine and jail time isn’t considered as an option. Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the Westchester district attorney, Janet DiFiore, said that the case “was treated no differently from any of the others.” But rather than express bitterness, Kennedy said outside the courthouse after the verdict that “anger is the last feeling I have right now. I’m full of gratitude.”

One of Kennedy’s lawyers, Gerald B. Lefcourt, said convicting Kennedy would have required proof that “she’s a callous person and knowing she was under the influence of Zolpidem and continued to drive. [There’s no] evidence from the prosecutor, who has the burden of proof, that Kerry Kennedy did realize she accidentally took the sleeping pill Zolpidem and continued to drive. This is a case with not a reasonable doubt — there is overwhelming doubt.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.