Court Upholds Murder Conviction of Pregnant Woman Who Used Cocaine

Regina McKnight is a young African-American woman who was convicted of killing her stillborn baby by using crack cocaine and sentenced to twelve years in jail. Her sentence was upheld by the South Carolina appeals court yesterday.

For some sociological and medical reasons why her sentence is unfair, please read this by the National Advocates for Pregnant Women.

This has been a high-profile case, particularly in South Carolina. Here's some background, as sent to us by those in the know:
McKnight was charged with homicide by child abuse. This crime carries a penalty of up to life in prison and requires proof of "extreme indifference" to life. The state blamed the stillbirth on Ms. McKnight's use of cocaine although, in fact, there was no evidence that the cocaine did - or even could have caused this stillbirth. Nevertheless in the second trial, (the first ended in a mistrial) a jury convicted Ms. McKnight in less than 15 minutes of deliberation.

The state supreme court took the case on direct appeal. Her team of lawyers and amici were all optimistic about a victory after a compelling oral argument in the case and an extraordinary DPA and other amicus from a unanimous medical and public health community. (Not to mention clear law on our side) Here is a woman the State admits had no intention of harming her fetus -- yet the court has upheld her conviction for homicide by child abuse -- 20-years to life. Had she intended to kill the fetus she would have gotten 2 years in jail.

The primary evidence in the case was a doctor who said that one time use of cocaine was known to cause death. His only support for this was popular press about the Len Bias case. Apparently that was enough for this court too as they stated: "Given the fact that it is public knowledge that usage of cocaine is potentially fatal, we find the fact that McKnight took cocaine knowing she was pregnant was sufficient evidence to submit to the jury on whether she acted with extreme indifference to her child’s life."
You can read the full text of the opinion here.

Her defense team is asking people to write Regina words of support, a postcard or letter, at the jail. If you are interested in doing so, post a comment with your email address and we will email you Regina's address. We don't want to post it here because we don't want people writing her hate letters, and we are well aware that there are people out there who can't understand why this is unfair.

Update: Here is an excellent article outlining the support of the medical community for Regina Mcknight , and includes this list of organizations that joined in the Amicus effort on her behalf.

Briefs amici curiae in support of appellant, Regina McKnight were submitted on behalf of:

South Carolina Medical Association
South Carolina Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors
American Nurses Association
National Association of Social Workers
Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs
Institute For Health and Recovery
The South Carolina Nurses Association
The American Society of Addiction Medicine
The American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry
The Association of Reproductive Health Professionals

More information on the case is available here.

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