Pubdate: Tue, 05 Nov 2002
Source: Charlotte Observer (NC)
Copyright: 2002 The Charlotte Observer
Author: Jeffrey Collins, Associated Press
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Women)


Attorneys Challenge Conviction Of Woman

COLUMBIA - For the second time, attorneys will try to overturn a South 
Carolina law allowing prosecutors to charge pregnant women with homicide by 
child abuse if they kill their fetus by using cocaine.

This time, the law is being challenged by Regina McKnight, who was 
sentenced to 12 years in prison after a jury took 10 minutes to convict her 
in the death of her stillborn daughter.

Attorney C. Rauch Wise, who will argue McKnight's case before the state's 
high court Wednesday, said he doesn't understand how a state that struggles 
to provide drug treatment to the poor can justify such a harsh sentence to 
a woman who had named her daughter and begged nurses to be allowed to hold 
the tiny body.

"It's just such a bad decision, and I don't know any way to be more blunt 
than that," Wise said. "It is a decision that defies to me the logic of the 
law and a decision that makes bad social policy."

But for prosecutor Greg Hembree, whose office convicted McKnight, a woman's 
taking cocaine while her fetus can live outside the womb is just as 
responsible for its death as if she took cocaine when the baby was a week 
old and killed it in a car wreck.

"She chose to disregard the safety of that child and put that child at risk 
of death. Because of her selfishness or her own personal desires, she 
killed the baby," Hembree said.

South Carolina's Supreme Court paved the way for such cases six years ago 
when it ruled a viable fetus is considered a child and that women could be 
charged with abuse if they took drugs after their fetus reached a viable stage.

Punishing pregnant women for illegal drug use has been a hot issue in South 
Carolina for more than a decade. Two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court 
ruled hospitals cannot test pregnant women for drugs without consent then 
turn the results over to police.

But Wise said the court's willingness to reconsider its 1996 decision shows 
that the attitude toward punishing pregnant addicts might be changing.

"It's been shown to be bad law, particularly in view of the fact that no 
other state in the union has followed it," Wise said.

State Attorney General Charlie Condon, whose office has been behind the 
so-called "crack mom" laws, said he still supports the measures.
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