Kerry Kennedy's Sleep Drug Mix-Up the Latest Medical Defense

Kennedy says she took Ambien by mistake before crashing her car.

ByABC News
February 24, 2014, 10:23 AM

Feb. 24, 2014— -- intro: Kerry Kennedy is in court today for a drugged-driving trial hailing from a 2012 highway crash near her home outside New York City.

Kennedy, 54, says she mistakenly took the prescription sleep-aid Ambien instead of her thyroid medication, causing her to fall asleep at the wheel. The niece of the late President John F. Kennedy hit a tractor-trailer and continued to drive to the next exit, where she failed a sobriety test.

The misdemeanor case is being heard in state Supreme Court, where a jury will decide whether Kennedy took the drug accidentally. Her defense attorney argues that her outfit at the time of the crash -- gym clothes -- supports the claim because no one would intentionally take a sleep aid before working out.

Kerry Kennedy and Ambien: A Common Med Mix (Up), Say Experts

Ambien's label warns about the risk of "sleep-driving," and says the drug "can impair alertness and motor coordination."

"Patients should be cautioned against engaging in hazardous occupations requiring complete mental alertness or motor coordination such as operating machinery or driving a motor vehicle after ingesting the drug," the label reads.

Kennedy is not the first person to cite Ambien in a legal defense. In 2006, her cousin Patrick Kennedy pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of Ambien and the motion-sickness drug Phenergan after crashing his car near the U.S. Capitol. The drug has also been raised in cases of domestic violence and rape.

Read on for a list of other drugs and conditions cited in legal defenses.

quicklist: 1category: Medical Defensestitle: The Zoloft Defenseurl:text: A former police officer was found guilty of kidnapping and raping a 25-year-old waitress in 2010 after claiming he was mentally "unconscious" during the attack because of the antidepressant Zoloft.

Anthony Nicholas Orban abducted the woman at gunpoint and made her drive to a storage facility before the attack, the Los Angeles Times reported. His attorney argued that the attack was "totally out of character" and would not have happened "but for the use of Zoloft."

Did the Drugs Make Him Do It? The Zoloft Defense

A spokesman for Pfizer, the company that makes Zoloft, said in a statement: "There is extensive science supporting the safety and efficacy of Zoloft, and the medicine carries accurate, science-based and FDA-approved information on its benefits and risks."

The Zoloft defense has worked in the past. In 2004, a Santa Cruz, Calif., man was acquitted of attempted murder after using the Zoloft defense. But in 2005, a jury rejected the defense in the case of a 15-year-old boy who shot his grandparents, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The drug does carry warnings to call a health care provider if users begin "acting aggressive or violent" or "acting on dangerous impulses."

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quicklist: 2category: Medical Defensestitle: The PMS Defenseurl:text: Premenstrual syndrome has been linked to mood swings, irritability, anger and poor concentration, symptoms some women have used as a legal defense.

A 42-year-old orthopedic surgeon was acquitted of drunken driving in 1991 after a gynecologist testified that her behavior -- erratic driving, foul language and attempting to kick a state trooper in the groin -- was consistent with PMS, the Baltimore Sun reported.

And in 1982, a 24-year-old mother accused of beating her daughter when she refused to be quiet claimed diminished capacity because of premenstrual stress, the New York Times reported.

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quicklist: 3category: Medical Defensestitle: The 'Geto Boys' Hypnosis Defenseurl:text: In 1991, two teens charged with murder claimed they were "temporarily hypnotized" by Geto Boys rap music.

Attorneys for Christopher Martinez and Vincent Perez, both 16 at the time, said a combination of marijuana, alcohol and Geto Boys music may have prompted the crime, the Houston Chronicle reported.

James Smith, president of the Geto Boys' record label Rap-a-Lot Records, rejected the defense.

"Everyone knows that normal people do not listen to a tape, have a couple of drinks and run around shooting people," he told the Chronicle.

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quicklist: 4category: Medical Defensestitle: The Twinkie Defenseurl:text: More so a depression defense, the "Twinkie defense" helped Dan White skirt first-degree murder charges for the 1978 assassinations of San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone.

White's attorneys argued that he had diminished capacity because of depression. The Twinkies were part of White's junk-food diet, a symptom of his depression, his attorneys claimed.

White was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to seven years in prison.

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