Kerry Kennedy DWI trial opens with video of sobriety tests, claim of 'sleep driving'

Kerry Kennedy DWI trial opens with video of sobriety tests, claim of 'sleep driving'
CNN
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Monday, February 24, 2014 - 7:27pm

(CNN) -- Jurors in the DWI trial of a Kennedy cousin on Monday watched the seemingly disoriented defendant allegedly failing three sobriety tests on video recorded by a police vehicle dashboard camera after her July 2012 accident in New York.

Kerry Kennedy, daughter of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and the former wife of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, faces a charge of driving while intoxicated, accused of driving erratically and striking a tractor-trailer on the morning of July 13, 2012, on an interstate in Westchester.

She later tested positive for zolpidem, a sleep aid also known by the brand name Ambien, according to testimony. Kennedy claims she took the medication accidentally when she mixed up medicine bottles. She could serve up to one year in prison if convicted.

Her attorney, Gerald Lefcourt, told the jury that while Kennedy does not expect any advantage because of her famous last name, she should not be punished because of it.

Among her supporters were brothers Robert Jr. and Douglas Kennedy, and their mother Ethel Kennedy, 85, who was pushed in a wheelchair inside the Westchester County Courthouse in White Plains.

A jury of four men and two women was seated last week, along with two male alternates.

During opening statements, Assistant District Attorney Stefanie DeNise said that even if Kennedy, 54, had taken the sleep aid unintentionally, she had a responsibility to pull her Lexus SUV off the road safely when she began to feel its effects.

Lefcourt disputed that argument, saying Kennedy had no time to react. "The zolpidem kicks in, it shuts her down, she's in a state of 'sleep driving,'" he said.

Lefcourt told the panel that his client has a legal prescription for the sleep medication to help her as she travels internationally on behalf of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights.

Judge Robert Neary interrupted Lefcourt when he began to describe Kennedy's humanitarian work against sexual slavery and poverty and asked him to comment only on the evidence in the case.

Jurors also heard from a motorist who witnessed Kennedy's vehicle swerving off the road repeatedly and another witness who later found her slumped over the steering wheel in the turn lane of an intersection, apparently "passed out."

The prosecution will continue its case Tuesday morning with the testimony of a New York State Police trooper trained as a drug-recognition expert.

Lefcourt has said Kennedy will testify in the trial, which is expected to last for several days.

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