precedent for charges against mothers who use drugs while pregnant


Hi Susie,

From what I could find, Massachusetts isn’t among the states that classify drug use by pregnant women as child abuse. You can find a summary of state’s policies here:

And here:

However, this Masachusetts case addresses the issue:

"Commonwealth v. Pellegrini, No. 87970, slip op. (Plymouth Super. Ct., October 15,1990).Josephine Pellegrini, a twenty-three year-old white woman, from Brockton, was the first woman in Massachusetts to be charged under the state's drug trafficking statute for "distributing" cocaine to her fetus after her infant tested positive for cocaine. Her family and friends describe Pellegrmni as" a battered woman who was terrified of her live-in boyfriend, the father of her three children." In October of 1990, the judge dismissed the drug charges as violating the right to privacy, principles of statutory construction, due process of law, and separation of powers."

The above info is from this website: which may be of interest to you.

I did find several court cases in other states in which women have been prosecuted for their drug use during pregnancy:

Reyes v. Superior Court
- Reyes, a California woman gave birth to heroin addicted twins was prosecuted by the under the criminal child endangerment statute.

State v. Black – Black was charged by the state of Florida with delivery of cocaine to a minor.

Whitner v. State
- Whitner was charged by the state of South Carolina with child endangerment after cocaine was detected in her newborn’s urine.

State v. Grubbs – Grubbs, of Alaska, allegedly used cocaine during pregnancy and was charged with manslaughter after her son died soon after birth from a drug induced heart attack.

State v. McKnight – McKnight, of South Carolina, was charged with homicide by child abuse after experiencing a stillbirth. The State contended that McKnight's cocaine use during pregnancy caused her fetus's death.

An amicus brief related to State V. Hernandez

Also, some articles that provide further info:

Copyright (c) 2005 New York University School of Law New York University Journal of Legislation and Public Policy, 2005 / 2006, 9 N.Y.U. J. Legis. & Pub. Pol'y 781, 18949 words, NOTE: STOP THE INJUSTICE: A PROTEST AGAINST THE UNCONSTITUTIONAL PUNISHMENT OF PREGNANT DRUG-ADDICTED WOMEN, Tiffany Lyttle

In Alabama, a Crackdown on Pregnant Drug Users, Adam Nossiter, The New York Times

I can’t provide links to these two articles because of copyright, but you could follow up if they sound interesting. A good place to do this could be a public law library in your area.

Copyright (c) 1998 Seton Hall University School of Law Seton Hall Law Review, 1998, 29 Seton Hall L. Rev. 634, 27071 words, ARTICLE: FINS, PINS, CHIPS, & CHINS: A Reasoned Approach to the Problem of Drug Use During Pregnancy, C. Antoinette Clarke

Copyright (c) 1991 The University of Illinois University of Illinois Law Review, 1991, 1991 U. Ill. L. Rev. 533, 25254 words, NOTE: THE PROSECUTION OF MATERNAL FETAL ABUSE: IS THIS THE ANSWER?, SHONA B. GLINK

Please just let us know if you have any more questions

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