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Kennedy drugged-driving case demonstrates importance of counsel

In an interview after her high-profile drugged-driving trial, Kerry Kennedy said the experience taught her a few things about the criminal justice system.

For one, she said she was shocked to find out that the New York district attorney’s office that prosecuted her has what she called a “crazy policy” that includes prosecuting every drunk or drugged driving arrest, even if there is reason to believe that the suspect was innocent.

Kennedy, the daughter of Robert F. Kennedy and niece of former President John F. Kennedy, was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of prescription drugs last summer. After a 20-month-long prosecution and a jury deliberation that lasted less than an hour, Kennedy was found not guilty.

Her defense lawyers successfully argued that Kennedy had caused an accident and fell asleep behind the wheel of her luxury SUV that day because she had accidentally taken the prescription sleep-aid Ambien instead of her thyroid medication.

Kennedy was quick to thank her lawyers for helping her to avoid a conviction, which she said would have hindered her job as a global humanitarian. But she said she worries about the Americans who are charged with crimes and don’t have access to experienced criminal defense attorneys.

In addition to showing her how powerless one can feel when ensnared in the criminal justice system, Kennedy said the experience also caused her some “emotional upheaval.” She said it was hard to be there for her children during the 20-month prosecution and the public trial revealed plenty of highly-personal information about her life.

If a member of the Kennedy family — one of the most powerful families in the United States — can feel that torn apart by a DUI proceeding, just imagine how scary it can be for an average citizen who lacks limitless resources and political connections.

That’s why an experienced criminal defense lawyer is a must in any type of criminal proceeding.

Source: The New York Times, “Impaired-Driving Case Took Toll, Kennedy Says,” Joseph Berger, March 4, 2014