Being arrested and charged with drunken driving or drug-impaired vehicle operation are serious events, neither of which anyone would want to experience. But as serious as these kinds of charges may be, it is important to understand that being charged with such an offense is worlds away from being convicted of same. As experienced DWI and drug DUI defense attorneys, my law firm is dedicated to helping those individuals who believe they were unjustly accused of driving under the influence.
With a century of collective trial law experience, my colleagues and I understand how common it is to see drivers stopped for a simple traffic offense only to find themselves in the back of a squad car and on the way to formal booking on charges of DWI, drug-impaired driving or any of the other alcohol and drug-related offenses enumerated in New Jersey’s legal statutes. The fact is, being charged with an offense is only the first step in a process that can end very differently.
Just a couple days ago, over in the Empire State, jurors deliberated for just over an hour before finding that Kerry Kennedy not guilty of drug DUI charges that were levied against the daughter of the late U.S. senator, Robert F. Kennedy. The case received national attention due in large part to Ms. Kennedy’s family name, but it also shined a light on the pitfalls of the use of prescription drugs and their effects on motorists all across the country.
According to news reports, Kennedy’s defense attorney intimated that the White Plains, NY, prosecutor’s office likely pursued the case against Ms. Kennedy because of her name. The trouble for the ex-wife of New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo began in July 2012 when the defendant allegedly took the wrong prescription medication before getting into her car one morning. As a result of taking 10mg of the sleep aid zolpidem — also known as Ambien – instead of her thyroid meds, police said that Ms. Kennedy began driving erratically, and not long afterward, reportedly sideswiped a tractor-trailer with her Lexus.
Defense attorneys for Ms. Kennedy pointed out that the woman had no idea of the mix-up in her medication until after the crash. She was quoted as saying that only after a police-ordered toxicology report came back with evidence of the zolpidem in her system, did she even realize what must have occurred in her home that morning when she mistakenly grabbed the wrong pill bottle.
According to court records, Kennedy stated that her memory of the entire morning ended just before her vehicle merged onto the highway. In fact, based on the defendant’s statements, she did not even recall hitting the semi. Her memory of the incident resumed only when she heard a rapping on her driver-side window by a patrolman asking if she was alright. According to police reports, Kennedy was allegedly slumped over the steering wheel of her car on the roadside.
The defense argued, according to news articles, that the woman had “a lot on her mind” that morning while getting ready to leave her home and that taking the wrong drug by mistake was not an intentional act. While the prosecution argued that Ms. Kennedy had a responsibility to pull over as soon as she realized she was impaired, the defense maintained that the effects of the zolpidem came on too quickly for their client to know what was happening.
The prosecution explained to jurors that Kennedy’s statements regarding the incident were inconsistent, and that the defense’s arguments that Kennedy’s doctors had said that she had a seizure were only meant to create a smokescreen to the real issue, which was that the defendant knew she had taken the wrong pill and was becoming impaired.
In the end, however, the prosecution apparently could not show beyond a reasonable doubt that Ms. Kennedy drove her car with the awareness that she had taken the sleep aid instead of her thyroid medication. After an hour and ten minutes of deliberation, the six-person jury decided that the 54-year-old Kennedy was not guilty of DUI. Had the verdict gone the other way, Ms. Kennedy could have found herself sentenced to a year in jail.
Kerry Kennedy acquitted in DWI trial, CNN.com, February 28, 2014