Victory in the Regina McKnight Case

Earlier this week, the South Carolina Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Regina McKnight, a woman convicted in 2001 of homicide after suffering a stillbirth and admitting to cocaine usage, did not have a fair trial. In so doing, the court recognized that McKnight's counsel failed to make use of existing evidence that could have shown that factors other than McKnight's drug use could have caused the stillbirth.

The court's ruling has significant import for the dozens of pregnant women in the United States each year that, like McKnight, are criminally charged for continuing their pregnancies to term despite their struggles with drug addition. (A recent New York Times article profiles several such women and their prosecutions in Alabama.)

While courts in other states have routinely rejected prosecutions of pregnant, drug-using women, they have not addressed the question of whether pre-natal exposure to substances causes harm to the fetus.

Notably, this week's decision discusses the critical importance of hearing evidence regarding what is and is not known about the topic. As the court noted, adequate expert medical testimony would include "recent studies showing that cocaine is no more harmful to a fetus than nicotine use, poor nutrition, lack of prenatal care, or other conditions commonly associated with the urban poor."

The local prosecutor hasn't decided whether to retry McKnight. Local papers reported that C. Rauch Wise of Greenwood, who directly represented McKnight on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina Foundation, in partnership with Matthew Hersh and Julie Carpenter of the law firm Jenner & Block, would seek to have McKnight released on bail pending a new trial.

National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) has been working on McKnight's behalf for nearly a decade. During this most recent round of litigation, NAPW, along with the Drug Policy Alliance and local South Carolina counsel Susan K. Dunn, filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of medical and public health groups and experts. In addition to challenging the validity of the state's claim that cocaine use caused the stillbirth, signatories argued that threatening pregnant women with jail time deters them from seeking prenatal care and other vital services.

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Anonymous

My daughter was doing illegal drug's until the day she found out she was pregnant. She immediately enrolled in a pregnant women's methadone program. She was extremely sick her entire pregnancy. She vomited morning, noon and night.She was taken to the emergency room several times a week and put on IV's and given a shot to stop the vomiting. No-one would tell us what was wrong with her.
She went into labor a month early and was given a morphine IV for nineteen hour's.The baby was born perfectly healthy. Seven day's after the baby's birth, toxicology test's came back showing morphine in the baby. My daughter was accused of using drug's the day before the baby's birth, yet anyone with an ounce of sense know's morphine spill's right into the baby in labor. DCYF took the baby. Medical record's appeared six month's later that prove my daughter's innocence. DCYF, the court, nor her court-appointed lawyer believed she was sick while pregnant. The Judge wouldn't even look at the evidence. He said it was too bad if her baby was taken illegally. It's too late.
The missing evidence showed my daughter had hyperemesis-gravidarum, was hyper-thyroid, anemic, gallbladder polyp's, hepatitis and was placenta previa. The baby should have been born by C-section, as both mother and child could have died. This was the reason for her being given morphine. We are still fighting for her baby's return. Her right's have been terminated, but the fight will never end until her baby who was wrongfully taken is returned.DCYF and our Judicaial system need to be reformed. Mother's are being wrongfully accused and families are being torn apart needlessly.

Anonymous

Pity you didn't mention the state this occurred in. Am I wrong in thinking that the so-called right-to-life states are more likely to have these repressive laws which, once again, take control of a woman's body and, incidentally, probably force more women into an abortion to avoid prosecutions? It is the kind of hypocrisy the right wing demonstrates all the time.

Dot

This miscarriage of justice took place in Nashua, N.H. My daughter's right's were terminated because she did not file an appeal while the case was in District Court. Her court-appointed puppet refused to file, so it has gone against her. My daughter petitioned the court three times to fire the puppet, but the Judge refused.The puppet even admitted he did not fight for my daughter because The Court is His Boss.
We filed an Injunction to stop the adoption of my granddaughter. Before being given a decision from Probate Court, the Judge illegally granted adoption. We got the decision denying the injunction almost a month later.
We are still fighting and will never give up. My granddaughter was taken illegally, kept from us illegally and adopted illegally. What is our court system's problem? Why does the Attorney General's office work for DCYF and not for the citizen's of N.H. who give her a paycheck?
I have started a Yellow Ribbon campaign and hope that everyone who has had children kidnapped by DCYF throughout the country will join me in displaying Yellow Ribbon's for each child taken. When will our government ever hold DCYF accountable for their misdeed's of perjury and deceit?

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