JERSEY CITY, and NEWARK, New Jersey. Across the country, “chemical endangerment” and “fetal assault” laws are being used to convict pregnant women of crimes. According to Amnesty International, in Alabama, women can be convicted for “chemical endangerment” if they are found to have been using drugs or if their babies are born with drugs in their systems. In some cases, the women being charged with these crimes may not have even known they were pregnant. Some women are choosing to avoid receiving drug treatment and even prenatal care because they fear being thrown in jail.
Because these laws vary at the state level, it is understandable that pregnant women in New Jersey who are considering receiving drug treatment might be concerned. Could you face criminal convictions for testing positive for drug use during your pregnancy in New Jersey? Fortunately, “chemical endangerment” and “fetal assault” laws vary from state to state. Alabama and Tennessee’s laws tend to be the most extreme.
According to ProPublica, in New Jersey, women have been prosecuted for using drugs during pregnancy. However, in 2013, New Jersey’s highest court ruled that women could no longer be prosecuted under the state’s child abuse laws because she tests positive for drugs. And in 2014, the state’s highest court ruled that methadone abuse wasn’t sufficient to warrant a conviction of abuse. High court precedent seems to hold that women should not be convicted of crimes when they are found to have drugs in their system. However, if pregnant women do find themselves facing charges in New Jersey for child endangerment for their drug use, they may have to take their cases to the higher courts.
Fetal homicide laws can criminalize acts that endanger the unborn fetus. What happens if a pregnant woman attempts suicide? Attempted suicide is not criminalized in any state, but individuals can be prosecuted for any harm they cause to a third party while attempting suicide. The Indiana Law Journal recently wrote about a case where a woman faced murder charges after she attempted suicide while pregnant. Could a similar case arise if a woman overdoses on say, opioids, or takes an amount of a drug that could be deadly while pregnant?
Fetal homicide laws are intended to protect the fetus from criminal acts an outside party may enact on a pregnant woman. However, in some states, these laws have been interpreted to mean any act any individual could take that could potentially harm a fetus, which would then extend to the actions the mother herself could take.
These cases stand at the nexus of women’s rights issues, women’s right to choose laws, and addiction treatment and criminal prosecution in America. If you are facing drug charges in New Jersey or child endangerment charges due to your drug use, you need a qualified criminal defense lawyer like the Law Office of Eric M. Mark on your side. Our firm can review your case, review state court rulings, and fight to help you get the best possible outcome for your case. Pregnant women who are suffering from addiction should receive help, not jail time. Visit our firm at https://www.ericmarklaw.com/ to learn about how we may be able to help you if you are facing drug charges and drug possession laws.
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