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Johnson v. State

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Johnson (Defendant) was pregnant and ingested cocaine. Her children were born with cocaine in their system and Defendant was convicted of delivering narcotics to her children.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Mothers who use controlled substances before or during childbirth may not be convicted of delivery of narcotics to children because those narcotics may pass through the umbilical cord after birth.

    Facts.

    Defendant was pregnant with twins and used crack cocaine both before and during her labor. She was prosecuted by Florida for delivering narcotics to her children. The state’s basis for the charge was that the cocaine in Defendant’s system would have travelled through the umbilical cord to her children during the period after the children had been born but before the cord was cut. A defense expert witness testified that it was not possible to determine whether the cocaine found in the children’s systems transferred before or after their birth. Defendant was convicted and appealed.

    Issue.

    May mothers who use controlled substances before or during childbirth be convicted of delivery of narcotics through the umbilical cord?

    Held.

    (Harding, J.) No. Mothers who use controlled substances before or during childbirth may not be convicted of delivery of narcotics to children because those narcotics may pass through the umbilical cord after birth. Florida enacted this statute to combat child abuse and neglect. When the law was passed, it included a provision preventing new parents of drug-dependent newborns from being criminally investigated based solely upon the child’s condition. The legislature clearly rejected criminal penalties against mothers of babies born with drug-dependencies. This theoretical passage of the drug after birth and before severance of the umbilical cord is outside the intended target of the statute, and is not supported by the testimony at trial anyway.

    Discussion.

    The court noted the impact on newborns of cocaine-dependency, but the decision rested on the court’s belief that the legislature’s goal of keeping families together was undermined by the approach taken by the prosecutor in this case.


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