The Kerry Kennedy Drugged-Driving Case: How Did She Get Off?

Daren Brown
By Daren Brown | March 22, 2019
The Kerry Kennedy Drugged-Driving Case: How Did She Get Off
On February 28, 2014, Kerry Kennedy was found not guilty of driving while impaired. The jury took just over an hour to reach their decision after a four-day trial. This incident was all across the news circuit when it occurred; it was if something like this had never occurred before. However, Kerry Kennedy’s case is not unique. It could happen to anyone, so it's important to know the facts and to hire a knowledgeable lawyer if you find yourself in Ms. Kennedy's shoes. 

What Was the Kerry Kennedy Case All About?

To understand why Ms. Kennedy was acquitted, you need to know a bit about the case first. In July 2012, Ms. Kennedy was observed driving her vehicle erratically down a New York interstate during morning rush hour. She swerved off the road and eventually crashed into a tractor-trailer. The police on the scene determined she was driving while under the influence of some substance and arrested her accordingly.

It was later found that she had taken an Ambien sleeping pill that morning, which caused her erratic driving and the appearance of being under the influence. Her explanation was that she accidentally took the Ambien instead of her thyroid medicine that morning.

The prosecution took the stance that Ms. Kennedy knew she had taken the medication and decided to drive anyway. They also contended that, even if she did not know she had taken Ambien, she knew she was driving erratically and should have pulled over instead of continuing to drive.

Ms. Kennedy decided to fight the charges and took the case to trial. Both sides presented expert testimony on the potential effects of taking Ambien. The prosecution hinged on the fact that she should have been aware that she was intoxicated and should not be driving.

Ambien has a well-known side effect in some people. After taking this medication, some people perform or participate in activities without any conscious memory of it. That includes driving. People have woken up behind the wheel miles away from their homes. Others have been in accidents and had no memory of the incident.

Ms. Kennedy took the stand in her own defense. Her testimony was that her last memory before the accident was before entering the highway. Her next reported memory was of someone, possibly a police officer, knocking on her window asking if she was okay. This was after she had hit the tractor-trailer. She says she has no memory of the drive down the highway or the accident itself. The defense also brought on expert witnesses to provide testimony on Ambien's potential effects.

Based on the information provided, the jury found her not guilty.

Why Was Kerry Kennedy Acquitted?

The state has to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that she was driving her vehicle after knowingly taking the Ambien. The prosecutor failed to make the case with the jury. The defense was able to introduce enough reasonable doubt to sway the jury to acquittal.

What Happens If I'm Arrested for A DWI/DUI After Taking Medication?

This situation is more common than you might think. It is relatively simple for people to take the wrong medication by accident. Amarillo criminal attorney Jarrett Johnston has seen these types of cases many times before. He has helped several defendants successfully fight the charges against them. If you are currently in a situation where you accidentally took a drug that altered your behavior and were subsequently arrested, contact Stockard, Johnston, Brown & Netardus, P.C. in Amarillo, Texas today.

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photo credit: Eric Silva

Topics: Criminal, DWI / DUI