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Can I be charged with a crime if I use drugs while pregnant?

Answer:

Yes, you can be charged with a crime if you use drugs while pregnant but only if you live in Tennessee. As a Jacksonville criminal defense attorney, I have seen the police threaten drug addicted pregnant women with arrest, but that's the most they can do. Mallory Loyola, a 26 year old Tennessee native, was arrested after both she and her newborn tested positive for the drug methamphetamine . The law, which just went into effect in July of 2014, makes it a crime to take drugs while pregnant, calling it "assault". It allows a woman to be prosecuted for assault for the illegal use of a narcotic drug while pregnant if the infant is harmed or addicted to the drug. Ms. Loyola admitted to smoking meth days before giving birth.

The sheriff who arrested her said he hoped the arrest would deter other pregnant women from drug use. "Hopefully, it will send a signal to other women who are pregnant and have a drug problem to seek help. That's what we want them to do, " he said. The law has come under tremendous opposition from both state and national critics, who say that the law will hinder drug-addicted pregnant women from getting help and treatment. I agree. What pregnant woman with a drug problem would knowingly go to State authorities for help, knowing that they could be arrested in the process? And it's ridiculous for this sheriff (or anyone else for that matter) to think that arresting drug addicted moms would actually deter pregnant woman from using drugs. Drug addiction is not a choice.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee is actively seeking to challenge the law. "This dangerous law unconstitutionally singles out new mothers struggling with addiction for criminal assault charges", the legal director said. Just before the Tennessee Governor signed the bill in April, the acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy said the federal government didn't want to "criminalize" addiction. "What's important is that we create environments where we're really diminishing the stigma and the barriers, particularly for pregnant women, who often have a lot of shame and guilt about their substance abuse disorders", he said. "we know that it's usually a much more cost effective treatment and less costly to our taxpayers if we make sure that we're treating folks".

The Tennessee Governor released a statement after signing the bill saying the intent of the law is to "give law enforcement and district attorneys a tool to address illicit drug use among pregnant women through treatment programs". Ms. Loyola was released on $2,000 bail and was charged with a misdemeanor. The law allows anyone charged to use entering a treatment program before birth and successfully completing it afterwards as a defense. But what if a woman does not successfully complete the program? Will they then go to jail? Many drug treatment programs are not successfully completed. Besides, who makes the determination of successful completion? A probation officer? A prosecutor?

Lesson Learned:

Luckily, no such law exists federally or in the State of Florida. Of course, no one likes to hear about crack addicted babies in neonatal wards of hospitals. The medical costs to treat these infants is high and everyone would agree that's it's a horrible way to start out life. But this is a terrible law that seeks to punish those with addiction problems, rather than encourage woman to get treatment. After all, what woman would ever admit to needing drug treatment while pregnant knowing that if treatment is not successfully completed that jail or a criminal conviction awaits?

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