Kerry Kennedy was recently found not guilty of an impaired driving charge stemming from a July 2012 accident. Kennedy is the daughter of late Senator Robert F. Kennedy and former wife of current New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. According to the Westchester district attorney’s office, Kennedy was driving impaired on July 13, 2012 after she took a sleeping pill. On that morning Kennedy’s Lexus struck a tractor-trailer after she apparently blacked out. She was arrested following a police response to the accident. No one was injured in the accident.
After being formally charged with driving while impaired under the influence of a drug (“DWAI-Drugs”), Kennedy fought the charges for nearly two years. The case culminated in a four-day trial in February 2014. Throughout the case, Kennedy maintained that she accidentally took a sleeping pill the morning of the accident, and would never have taken the drug intentionally before driving. Prosecutors did not dispute the accidental consumption, but insisted that Kennedy should have known she was impaired given the side effects of the drug, and should not have driven. Kennedy and her defense team denied that she felt any side effects after accidentally ingesting the drug, and she could not have realized she was impaired. That was the key question at trial: whether Kennedy intentionally drove while impaired after realizing she took her sleeping medication. The jury was not convinced that Kennedy knew that she was driving impaired before the accident, and answered the question with a “no.”
Driving While Ability Impaired by alcohol (DWAI) is a non-criminal charge in New York. DWAI is brought against a driver who is impaired solely by alcohol but not legally intoxicated. Legal intoxication means that a driver has a blood alcohol content (“BAC”) level of 0.08% or more. Legal alcohol impairment in New York means that a driver’s BAC is between 0.05% and 0.07%, not quite intoxicated but still affecting the motorist’s ability to drive safely. A DWAI conviction carries penalties including fines and surcharges of up to $760.00 and up to 15 days of jail time for a first offense.
A variant on the DWAI charge is the charge of DWAI-Drugs. A DWAI-Drugs charge is brought against a driver who operates a motor vehicle under the influence of any drug, prescription or otherwise. This is the formal charge prosecutors brought against Kennedy. DWAI-Drugs is a misdemeanor level criminal charge, and the penalties are more serious than those for a DWAI charge based on alcohol impairment. Penalties include a fine of up to $1,000 plus a surcharge of up to $400, up to 1 year in jail, a 3-year term of Probation, and revocation of the driver’s license for at least 6 months.
After the acquittal, Kennedy’s lawyers were quite vocal in criticizing the District Attorney’s office for bring the charge against Kennedy. They claim the only reason the prosecution brought the case to trial, an unusual tactic for a simple misdemeanor, was because of Kennedy’s prominent family name. A spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office denies the claim, stating “[Kennedy’s case]was treated no differently from any of the others: the jury heard all the evidence in this case, and we respect their verdict.”
DISCLAIMER: The exclusive purpose of this article is educational and it is not intended as either legal advice or a general solution to any specific legal problem.