Kerry Kennedy is accused of driving under the influence of Ambien two years ago, when she got into an accident on I-684 in Westchester County. Marc Santia reports.
Kerry Kennedy's defense lawyer said at the start of her trial for drugged driving Monday that she is not asking for a break because she is the daughter of the late Sen. Robert Kennedy, but said she should not be punished because of her famous family.
The case against Kennedy, the 54-year-old ex-wife of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, went to trial Monday morning in White Plains. The first day wrapped by 4:30 p.m., and Kennedy's lawyer said she would take the stand in the trial that is expected to last about a week.
Ethel Kennedy was among the supporters there for her daughter Monday. Robert Kennedy Jr. and Douglas Kennedy were also in the courtroom.
In 2012, Kennedy was arrested after her car hit a tractor-trailer on an interstate highway near her home in Bedford. She drove to the next exit, where she failed a sobriety test, police said. Blood tests revealed a small amount of the sleeping drug zolpidem.
Motorists testified Monday that she swerved her Lexus into the truck and kept driving, despite damage to her car.
Kennedy's lawyer said in court that she accidentally took a sleeping pill that morning instead of her daily thyroid medication. The pill bottles and the pills themselves look the same, he said, and both medicines were set out on the counter together as she was packing for an upcoming overseas trip.
"This is about a mistake, plain and simple," said her lawyer, Gerald Lefcourt.
Prosecutors said it's up to the jury to decide whether the drug was taken accidentally. And even if it was, they said, Kennedy broke the law if she kept driving after feeling the drug's effects.
But Lefcourt said Kennedy never knew what the drug was doing to her. He said the medication "hijacks your ability to make decisions."
He said she was "in a state of sleep-driving."
It's rare for such a minor charge to be heard in state Supreme Court, but Kennedy's lawyers successfully argued that the Town Court in Armonk, which had jurisdiction, was too small and poorly equipped for a high-profile trial.
A town judge and a state judge both refused defense efforts to get the charge dismissed, despite warm letters from family and friends extolling Kennedy's work in human rights around the world.
Kennedy won permission from Justice Robert Neary to miss last week's jury selection because she was on a human rights trip to Western Sahara.
Because the alleged offense is a misdemeanor, there are just six jurors.
Kennedy's brother, Douglas Kennedy, took another minor criminal case to trial in 2012. He was acquitted in a non-jury case of child endangerment and harassment charges stemming from a scuffle in a hospital maternity ward in Mount Kisco.