Supreme Court reverses conviction of woman whose baby tested positive for meth | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Supreme Court reverses conviction of woman whose baby tested positive for meth

Posted By on Thu, Oct 8, 2015 at 9:44 AM

click to enlarge CONVICTION REVERSED: Melissa McCann Arms.
  • CONVICTION REVERSED: Melissa McCann Arms.
The Arkansas Supreme Court today reversed and dismissed the conviction and 20-year sentence of Melissa McCann Arms, charged with introducing a controlled substance into another person after both she and her newborn tested positive for methamphetamine after 2012 delivery of the child at a Mena hospital.

Arms admitted she'd ingested meth, but said she had not put the meth in the child and said the statute did not include an "unborn child." A jury convicted her and the Court of Appeals upheld the conviction. The ACLU intervened with a friend of the court brief in the appeal to the Supreme Court. It argued that penalizing women who were struggling with substance abuse because they become and remain pregnant violated constitutional rights.

I don't have access to the opinion yet, but the court announcement of decisions today said the conviction was reversed and dismissed and the Court of Appeals ruling was vacated. Chief Justice Howard Brill and Justice Rhonda Wood issued concurrences to the opinion.

The majority opinion, written by Justice Jo Hart, notes that criminal statutes limit crimes to fetuses to homicides, thus it had to focus on the question of whether drugs were transmitted to the child after it was born and before the umbilical cord was severed. In that time, there is no evidence that the mother introduced drugs to the child. For the jury to conclude she had somehow otherwise transmited drugs required speculation. That is enough for reversal, Hart wrote.

But she said the state's case had more fundamental problems — no express statement in law that a "passive bodily process" that resulted in a drug taken by a mother reaching a fetus was a crime. Hart said these factors made it unnecessary to reach other arguments made in the case, such as the ACLU's constitutional objections.

Wood's concurrence said it was sufficient to reverse for lack of evidence. She said she wasn't ready to join the opinion that there could never be a conviction for transfer of a drug that a passive bodily function.

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