Criminal Charges For Using Illegal Substances While Pregnant

If you use illegal drugs and become pregnant, there are some things you should know about the possible legal consequences of continuing to use during this time. In many states, pregnant women are increasingly being prosecuted for their substance abuse and addiction. This has become a subject of controversy that may take a long time to resolve.

The Enforcement of Drug Laws Against Pregnant Women

Chemical endangerment laws in several states came about because of people exposing their children to the dangers of home meth labs. These have now been expanded to include charging the women who show evidence of illegal drug use (and even alcohol use if severe) during pregnancy. The laws are being written in a way to protect the fetus from chemical contamination shortly after conception to birth.

If the medical personnel detect any illegal drugs in your system, from non-prescribed anti-anxiety drugs to meth-amphetamines, this may require action. The laws differ from state to state: In Texas and Florida, if the baby suffers health problems or is born addicted, a medical professional is required to report this to the authorities, while in South Carolina all it takes is one positive blood test that indicates any illegal drug use of the mother. 

Possible Penalties and Punishments

There are different laws used in this pursuit such as "assault on the fetus," "chemical endangerment of a child" and more.  The charge could be a misdemeanor or a felony,  and in Alabama a woman could face up to ten years in prison if her baby is born unaffected but up to 20 years if her baby has been harmed by her drug use.

Depending on the jurisdiction, you might be able to forgo a trial by agreeing to go through a drug diversion program, and getting treatment while pregnant. If you successfully complete all the requirements, the charges may be dropped.

Controversy and Effectiveness

Some lawmakers and prosecutors claim that enforcing these laws with regards to pregnant women will encourage the women to get treatment for drug addiction if they become pregnant. Opponents say these laws and overly strict enforcement may actually lead to more abortions, to mothers avoiding prenatal medical care, to them leaving the state to give birth, or giving birth at home. They say there are better ways to handle this problem. 

In South Carolina, where these laws are being vigorously upheld, the statistics have actually shown increases in infant mortality and abandoned babies, and the number of women seeking drug treatment has declined, no doubt due to fears of being charged with a crime. 

In Tennessee, a new law that specifically targets pregnant women has gone into effect. The state's American Civil Liberties Organization has been fighting this as unfair to women and unconstitutional while in 2014, Michael Bottecelli, an official of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, remarked that the federal government was not behind the push to criminalize addiction

Legal Representation

If you face charges for drug use while pregnant, you should consult a criminal defense lawyer such as Russ Jones Attorney At Law right away for legal advice and support. They may use some of the above aspects such as the constitutionality of the laws involved and possible discrimination in their legal strategy. If you have an addiction, whether facing charges or not, you should get treatment for it plus prenatal care to protect your unborn child, and this may also mitigate any legal problems.