Should a pregnant drug user face additional charges?

We all know that the possession and subsequent use of prohibited drugs such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines is illegal and can result in criminal charges. But in some states, the use of such drugs may result in additional criminal charges if the user is pregnant. It’s because of a new law out of another state that we bring up this issue with our California readers in hopes of sparking a conversation about how far the law can go before it is considered overreaching.

The law we referred to above was enacted in Tennessee and criminalizes the use of opiates while pregnant. This law has already resulted in the arrest of a 26-year-old woman who was charged with assault after she allegedly admitted to using meth just days before her child’s birth. Her case is not only sparking other states to follow suit with similar legislation but it is also questioning whether these laws are fair or not.

While some advocates support the additional criminal charges levied against pregnant mothers, others aren’t so sure. If legislation is not clearly stated, complications can occur, including wrongful convictions that would have to be appealed later on. Legislation would also have to be clear on what criminal charges can be levied against a pregnant mother as well.

Here in California, although an indication of maternal substance abuse is not a “sufficient basis for reporting child abuse and neglect,” it can lead to criminal charges, according to the Child Abuse Council of Santa Clara County. Unfortunately, not everyone may be aware of these laws or how they apply to their own case. And although legal representation may be beneficial when it comes to dealing with criminal charges, some people may not even know they have the right to legal counsel, which is another problem we hope our readers never have to deal with.

Sources: The New York Times, “Do Personhood Laws Protect Or Harm?” Anna Altman, July 23, 2014

The Child Abuse Council of Santa Clara County, “Duty to Assess Maternal Substance Abuse,” March 27, 2014, Accessed July 31, 2014

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