Kerry Kennedy, the niece of Robert F. Kennedy and former wife of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is sparking plenty of debate after being found not guilty today on charges of driving while impaired. Although she admitted to the DUI and acknowledged that it could have been fatal Kennedy insisted her falling asleep at the wheel was just an honest mistake caused by switching medications. Despite this, it took only an hour for the jury to acquit her on all charges after a five-day trial.
Kennedy, 54, was arrested in July 2012 after hitting a tractor trailer with her S.U.V. 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 known as 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 become bitter, 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.”