Articles Links

Sleep driving defendant found not guilty

Toxicology Expert Witness Exonerates Kerry Kennedy from DUI Charges

  Written by: 

A toxicology expert witness testified that a person who mistakenly takes sleep medication would not recognize the drug’s impairing effects.

Such testimony by clinical pharmacologist Dr. David Benjamin was critical in the acquittal of Kerry Kennedy, the human rights activist and daughter of assassinated U.S. senator Robert F. Kennedy. Ms. Kennedy was involved in an accident in July 2012 where she sped on a New York highway and swerved into a tractor-trailer 10 miles from her home. No one was injured in the accident; a police officer found Ms. Kennedy “disoriented and confused shortly after she exited the Interstate with a flat tire.”

The New York Times reports that “[a]lthough there are 2,500 cases brought every year in Westchester for driving under the influence of either alcohol or drugs, they are typically bargained down to a noncriminal violation requiring a guilty plea and a fine.”

Ms. Kennedy pursued a jury trial, contesting the charges. She claimed that she mistakenly mistook her prescription for Zolpidem , the generic form of Ambien, for her thyroid medication. Her defense attorneys “pointed out that the two medicine bottles were identical.

To be found guilty for driving with ability impaired by drugs , prosecutors had to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt that Ms. Kennedy operated her vehicle while she was aware that she had ingested zolpidem and, after becoming aware, she continued intentionally to drive.”

Westchester County Assistant District Attorney Doreen Lloyd argued in her closing statement that “it makes no sense whatsoever that at no point did [Ms. Kennedy] realize [she mistakenly swallowed the wrong pill] or feel tired or dizzy or drowsy…She is responsible for the chain of events that happened after that.”

However, the toxicologist expert witness testifying for the defense stated that “Ambien can cause a form of ‘zombiism’ that can result in ‘sleep driving.’” He “compared taking sleep medication unknowingly to being slipped a date-rape drug.” Mr. Benjamin stated that the pill taker “‘wouldn’t be able to understand what was going on. ’”

Ms. Kennedy testified that she had a light breakfast, grabbed her bags, and headed to the gym. She stated that her recollection of the incident was “jumbled.” She “remembers leaving her home that morning and heading to the highway but nothing after that.

Contesting the prosecution’s accusations, Ms. Kennedy stated that she didn’t feel the sleeping pill set in, she “blacked out” during the accident.

“‘If I realized I was impaired, I would have pulled over. ’”

Ms. Kennedy told Matt Lauer on NBC’s morning show “Today ” that Westchester County has a “terrible policy” of pursuing every case of drunk driving, regardless if police or D.A. believe that the person is innocent, as “it means that a lot of people who are innocent get caught up in the criminal justice system.” She believes she won the case “for three basic reasons: number one, I was innocent; number two, I had competent counsel; and number three, I was willing to bring it to trial.

Ms. Kennedy highlights her case as an example of how legislation must be passed so that those charged with misdemeanors who are not able to afford competent counsel are not compelled to “plead to something that they didn’t do. ” While her father’s work as attorney general resulted in the passage of the Criminal Justice Act, legislation that ensures funding for the right to counsel in federal court, similar laws have not passed in every state. For example, there is no right to counsel in New York state court.

As competent counsel and qualified expert witnesses are critical in establishing a party’s case, Ms. Kennedy’s highly profiled misdemeanor case underscores the privilege that many Americans still lack.

MS note: Important to note that Kennedy mistakenly took the wrong medicine (pill bottles looked alike) and the jury believed her when she said that she "blacked out" and had no memory.  If, on the other hand, she had testified that she felt the effects of the ambien starting to take affect, but didn't pull over, she would likely have been convicted.

CALL ME FOR A FREE CONSULTATION

MICHAEL SHULTZ


SERVING CLIENTS IN SOUTHERN
CALIFORNIA COURTS FOR OVER 30 YEARS
CALL FOR DETAILS
(310) 456-1913
Free Consultation

FREE CONSULTATION!

Name*:
Email*:
Phone:
Any Questions or Comments? (optional):
2+5=* So we know you are human.
MICHAEL L. SHULTZ, ATTORNEY AT LAW

MEMBER OF THE CALIFORNIA
STATE BAR SINCE DEC 1972
SBN# 054551


Web Design By The Web Corner