The case involves a woman, Nina Buckhalter, who suffered a stillbirth back in 2010. Doctors said that the stillbirth likely occurred because of Buckhalter’s drug use, specifically, because of cocaine. A lower court in Lamar County threw out the charge against Buckhalter, saying there was no evidence that the Mississippi legislature intended to criminalize drug use by pregnant women that might harm their children.
However, prosecutors are arguing that the charge of culpable manslaughter against Buckhalter should be reinstated and that the woman should stand trial. The Supreme Court decided to hear the case and will begin oral arguments later this week.
There have been several similar cases filed against women who had stillbirths since 2006. Two of those cases, including the one against Buckhalter, are still pending. Another woman impacted by such charges is Rennie Gibbs of Lowndes County. Gibbs suffered a stillbirth in 2006 after she ingested cocaine. Her actions led her to be charged with depraved-heart murder. Even more tragically, this all happened while Gibbs was only a teenager. She first became pregnant at 15 and the child died when Gibbs was 16.
Some have questioned the entire idea of charging with a crime a woman who just lost a child unexpectedly. The problem, according to same defense experts, is that it opens up a potentially never-ending can of worms where all kinds of women could be charged with manslaughter in the event that their babies die. For instance, what if a woman smokes or drinks while pregnant or if an overweight woman did not follow her doctor’s orders. Allowing these prosecutions to move forward results in many new questions that would need to be resolved.
Another issue that such prosecutions raise is what would happen if a pregnant woman were to come forward and ask for drug treatment while pregnant. Some worry that if such prosecutions are allowed to move forward, it will create a disincentive for a woman to seek help out of fear that she could be charged in the event that something bad happens to her child.
Prosecutors claim that Mississippi law defines unborn children as human beings which means that manslaughter can be applied to mothers whose gross negligence led to the death of their children. Prosecutors admitted that no bill has ever been passed by the legislature that specifically criminalizes a mother’s drug use while pregnant, but they argue that one is not needed because existing laws allow for prosecution.
If you’ve been involved in something that requires the skill of an experienced Mississippi criminal defense lawyer, contact us today.Source: “Mississippi Supreme Court to hear case of woman accused of stillborn death after ingesting cocaine,” by The Associated Press, published at GulfLive.com.