BY MELANIE BUCK –
The Supreme Court of Arkansas has overturned a Polk County jury’s landmark decision that was later affirmed by the Arkansas Court of Appeals in the case of Melissa McCann Arms. Arms was convicted on January 13, 2014, of one count of Introduction of a Controlled Substance into the Body of Another Person, for which she was sentenced to 20 years in the Arkansas Department of Corrections. Arms’ newborn baby was born at Mena Regional Health System addicted to methamphetamine in November 2013.
Arms appealed her case to the Arkansas Court of Appeals in January 2015. In the appeal, Arms was (1) challenging the sufficiency of evidence to support her conviction; (2) arguing that the circuit court erred by denying her motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction; and (3) argued that the circuit court erred by denying her motion to dismiss because the controlled substance was injected into herself and not her child.
Even though Arms and her newborn tested positive for methamphetamine and Arms’ admitted to taking the drug while pregnant, Arms’ attorney, Randy Rainwater, argued in the appeal that there is no reference to unborn children in the current statute and that Arkansas law does not define an unborn child as a ‘person’ except in cases of homicide. At the time, Prosecuting Attorney Andy Riner said there is an easy fix to the law by changing the language to state that ‘person’ includes an ‘unborn child in utero at any stage of development.’ Even though the legislation was unclear, during Arms’s appeal, appellate Judge Whiteaker did concur with Riner that in the case of Arms, it did include unborn children and affirmed the conviction based on the fact that her fluids continued to flow through the umbilical cord to the infant for a period after the child was born.
State Representative Nate Bell wrote and tried to pass a bill through the Arkansas General Assembly that would clarify the definition of ‘person’ to include ‘an unborn child in utero at any stage of development;’ however, after passing through the House, it failed in the Senate.
After her appeal was denied, Arms took her case to the Arkansas Supreme Court challenging the same issues. In the Supreme Court’s findings it stated, “The record is completely devoid of any evidence that Arms directly introduced methamphetamine into her baby’s system by causing the child to ingest or inhale it. Therefore, to sustain this conviction, this court would be required to construe section 5-13-210 to mean that Arms’s own use of the drug meant “otherwise introduc[ing]” it to the child. We note that there was no evidence of an ongoing transfer of the methamphetamine that was in Arms’s system after the child was born. The jury would thus have been forced to speculate that Arms was “otherwise introducing” the drug into the child at that point. When a jury reaches its conclusion by resorting to speculation or conjecture, the verdict is not supported by substantial evidence, and we must reverse and dismiss the charges.”
Being the first case of its kind in Arkansas, upon conviction in Polk County, Riner said, “This case was about bringing attention to [the baby] and other babies who are being born addicted to controlled substances, and it was an important one. It seems that nothing is being done by the legislature to address this problem, and having begun to poke around the edges of the problem we have realized that it is much more common than we suspected.” In fact, after the McCann Arms conviction, two more Polk County woman were also convicted and sentenced for the same crime.
Regarding the Arkansas Supreme Court decision to throw the Arms conviction out, Riner said, “There is two sides to this issue. My side is: you hurt somebody, a child. The other side is: we should do nothing about this and turn our head and look the other way. Leaders don’t turn their heads. The medical community and everyone else needs to wake up because these are real children and they are getting hurt.
When somebody that’s a leader in the executive branch of government sees a problem they tackle it, while everybody else sits and rings their hands of it. We need to come up with a solution, that’s the bottom line.”
Riner went on to say that Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s office did a great job with presenting the case to the Arkansas Supreme Court. “I think that the significant part is that the Attorney General’s office did a fabulous job arguing the case. I knew that they were committed to it when they sent the Solicitor General to me. Lee Rudosky did a great job with it. The appeal that they wrote was excellent. It’s pretty hard to make a difference from Western Arkansas but when somebody like that gets involved, they’ll listen to them.”
The Arkansas Attorney General’s office issued a statement that said AG Leslie Rutledge and her office are “committed to working with the General Assembly to clarify that this statute makes it a crime for a pregnant woman to introduce controlled substances like methamphetamine into the body of her unborn or just born child.”
Riner concluded, “This is important to me. Amendment 58 Section 2 says, in essence, that it is the policy of the state of Arkansas to protect the unborn to the full extend allowed by the federal constitution. The people went to the poles and voted that into law. What the court has done is said the legislature needs to pick this up and explicitly act. This is about seeing a problem, exerting leadership, and doing the right thing to try to get to a solution.”
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