South Carolina: Leading The Nation in the Prosecution and Punishment of Pregnant Women

July 17, 2006

Recent Arrests and Convictions

• July 2006, Gaffney: Hannah Lauren Jolly, 20 was charged with “unlawful child neglect” based on the claim that her newborn baby tested positive for marijuana and cocaine. Jolly relinquished her newborn to nurses at a hospital and was therefore protected from prosecution for abandonment by Daniel’s Law, also known as the Abandoned Babies Act. Nevertheless, after the child tested positive for drugs, police tracked Ms. Jolly down and arrested her.

• March 2006, Clearwater: Betty L. Staley, 28, was charged with “unlawful neglect” after her daughter allegedly tested positive for cocaine at birth.

• February 2006, Aiken: Carolyn Michelle Wright, 27, was charged with “unlawful neglect” based on the claim that she tested positive for cocaine use when she went to a hospital.

• January 2006, Easley: Jennifer Lee Arrowood, 38, was arrested for “homicide by child abuse” after suffering a placental abruption and giving birth to a stillborn son. The state claimed that Ms. Arrowood’s drug use was the cause of this pregnancy loss. Charges were reduced to unlawful neglect of a child. Ms. Arrowood was convicted January 23, 2006, and received a 10-year prison sentence.

• August 2005, Anderson: Iona Michelle Goss was arrested when she experienced a stillbirth at the entrance to AnMed Women’s and Children’s Hospital. According to press reports, prosecutors are searching for evidence to link the stillbirth to drug use.

• April 2005 Gaffney: Amy Sue Earls, 24, was arrested for “unlawful child neglect.” Ms. Earl’s newborn child tested positive for cocaine. Ms. Earls plead guilty and was sentenced to 20 months in prison and 3 years probation during which she has been forbidden to become pregnant.

• February 2005, Spartanburg County: Angela Demaris Thomas, was arrested for unlawful neglect of a child. Ms. Thomas allegedly admitted to using cocaine and methamphetamines during pregnancy.

• November 2004, Gaffney: Pamela Cruz-Reyes was arrested for “unlawful child neglect.” Ms. Cruz-Reyes allegedly admitted to marijuana and cocaine use while pregnant. She was convicted in December 2004, and sentenced to 4 years in prison.

• August 2004, Lake City: Brenda Elmore Black, 31, was arrested for homicide by child abuse, when her stillborn baby allegedly tested positive for cocaine.

Still Serving Time:

• Regina McKnight suffered a stillbirth, was charged with homicide by child abuse and was tried and convicted. Although Ms. McKnight had no criminal record, she was sentenced to twenty years imprisonment with eight years suspended. On appeal, the South Carolina State Supreme Court held that viable fetuses are persons under the state's homicide statute, effectively transforming a stillbirth from personal and family tragedy to “depraved heart” homicide. The decision permits conviction on any evidence that a pregnant woman engaged in activity “public[ly] know[n]” to be “potentially fatal” to a fetus. No one in this case believed that Ms. McKnight had any intention of harming the fetus or losing the pregnancy. Had Ms. McKnight sought to end her pregnancy by having an illegal third trimester abortion, her sentence would have been two years in jail. Experts working on her appeals conclude that her stillbirth was caused by an infection wholly unrelated to drug use.

• Angelia Shannette Kennedy, suffered a stillbirth at Spartanburg Regional Medical Center in December 1998. Labor was induced after doctors discovered that the fetus had no heartbeat. A hospital employee called 911 to report that the stillbirth was suspicious. Ms. Kennedy was interrogated by police shortly after the delivery and the loss. The male detective asked the bereaved woman, “Did you do everything in your power to ensure that you’d have a healthy baby?” Several years later, following the McKnight decision, she was charged with homicide by child abuse. Rather than face a homicide trial, Ms. Kennedy plead guilty to three counts of criminal child endangerment and received a five year prison sentence.

South Carolina Facts:

• Since 1989, more than 80 women in South Carolina have been arrested for child abuse or other crimes based pregnancy and untreated drug problems.

• South Carolina is the only state in the country to permit the prosecution of women who attempt to continue their pregnancies to term in spite of a drug problem, alcohol or other health problem.

• South Carolina spends fewer state dollars on drug treatment than any other state in the country. In 2000, the state was only able to treat approximately 52,000 of the 310,000 South Carolinians identified as having substance abuse problems.

• South Carolina ranks first in its spending in percent of justice dollars used for corrections. South Carolina spends 48 percent of its total justice system expenditures on imprisonment – more than any other state in the nation.