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State High Court Hears Case of Woman Charged in Stillbirth

By Daniel Cherry | Published 02 Apr 2013 06:25pm | comments
The Mississippi Supreme Court will soon decide if a woman who allegedly used drugs and then suffered a stillbirth should stand trial for manslaughter. The prosecution is asking the Mississippi Supreme Court to reinstate charges against the mother. 
 
Before the Mississippi Supreme Court on Tuesday, prosecutors asked justices to allow Nina Buckhalter to be prosecuted for negligent culpable manslaughter. Buckhalter was arrested in 2010 for alleged drug use during her pregnancy, which some believe led to her stillbirth. Hal Kittrell is Lamar County DA and he believes Buckhalter should stand trial.
 
"We're not after stillborn babies. We're not after pregnant women. What we are after is justice for a child who should not be dead for the ingestion of illicit drugs."
 
A Lamar County court threw the case out last year saying the law doesn't intend to criminalize mothers for drug use that harms a fetus. Defense attorney Robert McDuff says the law doesn't specifically allow prosecution of women for the outcome of their pregnancies.
 
"This particular prosecution coming out of Lamar County is really not authorized by the law, and we're hoping the Mississippi Supreme Court is going to agree with the trial judge when he said it wasn't authorized by the law."
 
A dozen public health organizations and human rights advocates have filed briefs in support of keeping Buckhalter from prosecution. Defense says the case would set a dangerous precedent in which woman who miscarry could be prosecuted for a number of reasons from too much exercise to smoking. During the hearing Supreme Court Justice Leslie King questioned prosecutors.
 
"Today doctors have suggested that caffeine for example is something that women should avoid during pregnancy. There's herbal teas that ought to be avoided. Exactly what are the boundaries?"
 
There is no timeline for when the Court will make a decision on whether to allow Buckhalter to be prosecuted or uphold the lower court's ruling. 
 

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