WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – Even if Kerry Kennedy accidentally drugged herself with a sleeping pill before getting in her car, she broke the law if she kept driving after feeling the drug's effects, prosecutors say.
In filings Tuesday, the Westchester County district attorney's office asked a judge to reject Kennedy's second attempt to have her drugged-driving case dismissed. Prosecutors said a dismissal would send the wrong message to the public about how "people of wealth and power" are treated.
Kennedy is the ex-wife of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the daughter of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and the niece of the late President John F. Kennedy.
In 2012, she was arrested after her car hit a tractor-trailer on an interstate highway near her home in the New York City suburbs. Tests revealed a small amount of the sleeping drug zolpidem in her blood. She said she accidentally took a sleeping pill instead of her daily thyroid medication.
When a new judge, acting State Supreme Court Justice Robert Neary, took over the case last month, Kennedy's lawyer Gerald Lefcourt made a new motion for dismissal, saying the prosecution had recently acknowledged it had no evidence that Kennedy intentionally took the pill.
The district attorney's office said a jury should determine at trial whether Kennedy took the pill accidentally. But the prosecutor said that "even if the initial ingestion was 'accidental' ... continuing to drive when she realized she was impaired violated the law."
Noting that judges have to consider "the impact of a dismissal upon the confidence of the public in the criminal justice system," prosecutors used the exact wording they employed in successfully fighting the previous dismissal motion. They said a dismissal "would feed a public perception that people of wealth and privilege are treated differently than others."
The defense has said in the past that Kennedy's fame is being held against her. In its new motion, the defense again praised her service in promoting international human rights and included letters from family and friends extolling her work. It said a conviction might give leaders of guilty nations "a basis to deny Ms. Kennedy entry."
The defense motion also asked the judge — if he denies the dismissal — to send the case to a grand jury to determine if the charge is warranted. Prosecutors "have abdicated their responsibilities," Lefcourt wrote.
Grand juries are rare in misdemeanor cases, and prosecutors said no such order has been issued in 35 years.
If the case is not dismissed or transferred to a grand jury, Kennedy's trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 24. She has said she will miss jury selection because she will be on a human rights mission in Europe and Africa.