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Crime & Courts

NY judge refuses to dismiss drugged-driving case against Kerry Kennedy


FILE - In this May 13, 2013 file photo, Kerry Kennedy listens to a speaker at a farm workers fair labor practices news conference in Albany, N.Y. A town judge in New York is deciding whether the drugged-driving case against Kennedy should go to trial. The North Castle judge is expected to rule Tuesday May 21, 2013, on Kennedy's motion to dismiss the charge. (AP Photo/Mike Groll, File) (The Associated Press)

Kerry Kennedy, the ex-wife of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is likely to go on trial in the fall after a town judge refused to dismiss a drugged-driving case against her Tuesday.

Kennedy "cut a wide swath of danger and risk" on July 13 as she drove her Lexus on Interstate 684 near her home north of New York City, swerving into a tractor-trailer, Justice Elyse Lazansky wrote in a ruling filed in North Castle Town Court.

Police said Kennedy, daughter of Sen. Robert Kennedy and niece of President John Kennedy, failed sobriety tests and was arrested. A small amount of a sleeping drug was found in her blood, and she has maintained she accidentally took a sleeping pill that morning instead of her daily thyroid medication.

Kennedy attended a brief court session after the decision was filed, but she would not speak to reporters outside the courtroom. Her lawyer, Gerald Lefcourt, said she was "not happy about it."

"We are very disappointed and we disagree with it, but we have every confidence that Ms. Kennedy will be exonerated," Lefcourt said.

Kennedy argued that the charge should be dismissed because she took the sleeping pill accidentally, but the judge said a jury should decide "whether her intoxication was voluntary."

The defense also recounted Kennedy's work for social justice and included a large file of glowing letters from friends and relatives. Her mother, Ethel Kennedy, wrote that human rights activists around the world need her daughter's "compassion, keen insight, judgment and support."

The judge acknowledged that Kennedy "is not a typical criminal defendant. She has achieved a great deal and is dedicated to good works." But she said a trial need not put an end to that.

"Other gifted, powerful and wealthy politicians and celebrities too numerous to mention have faced a wide variety of criminal charges and have gone on to do their jobs or serve the public in many important ways," Lazansky wrote.

Prosecutors fought the dismissal motion, arguing that dropping the charge would feed the perception that famous people are treated differently. The judge agreed.

She said dismissal might lead to "the intolerable false conclusion among the public that there are two justice systems: one for the rich and powerful, and one for everybody else."

In response to the defense claim that the only harm done was to Kennedy's own pride and famous name, the judge said, "Driving while intoxicated is not a victimless crime; it is an offense against society as a whole.

Dismissal "would convey to the public the egregious false impression that intoxicated driving is a trifling matter, subject to dismissal at the whim of the judiciary," Lazansky wrote.

The judge set a schedule, extending into October, for each side to file motions and respond to them. No trial date was set. Plea bargaining could take place during this period, but another defense lawyer, William Aronwald, said Kennedy would not plead guilty to anything.

The Kennedy family has been prominent in the news in New York's northern suburbs over the past year.

Kerry Kennedy's sister-in-law and close friend, Mary Kennedy, hanged herself a year ago at her Bedford home. Her brother Douglas Kennedy was acquitted in November of child endangerment and harassment charges stemming from a scuffle in a hospital maternity ward in Mount Kisco.

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