BY MELANIE BUCK –
The Arkansas Court of Appeals upheld the decision of a Polk County jury in the landmark case of Melissa McCann-Arms who 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 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.
In it’s findings, the Court of Appeals’ Chief Judge Robert J. Gladwin attempted to certify the third argument of Arms’ appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court on the basis that the application of the relevant statute to a mother introducing a controlled substance into the body of another person-specifically, her child, through the umbilical cord-by way of ingesting or injecting a controlled substance into herself during the time the child was still attached via the umbilical cord is an issue of first impression. The Arkansas Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal.”
Being the first case of its kind in Arkansas, upon conviction in 2014, Prosecuting Attorney Andy 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.”
This case was set in motion on November 1, 2012, when Mena Police Officers, Todd Cannon and Dolores Hutcheson, responded to a call from the Mena Regional Health System. Arriving at the hospital, the officers went to the ante-partum room of the hospital where a hospital employee had discovered a pipe, which Hutcheson recognized immediately as being used to smoke marijuana. Hutcheson spoke with other hospital personnel and learned that Melissa Arms and her husband had occupied the ante-partum room prior to Arms going into labor. Hospital personnel described both Melissa and Joseph Arms as behaving erratically as if they were under the influence of controlled substances.
After Hutcheson retrieved the pipe for evidence, a judge was contacted for a search warrant authorizing the retrieval of blood and urine samples from Melissa Arms and her newborn child. The blood and urine were later tested by the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory where it was determined that both mother and child’s samples tested positive for methamphetamine.
Nurses testified that the newborn experienced several problems including symptoms of drug withdrawal. After being confronted with a positive urinalysis for methamphetamine, Arms finally admitted to using methamphetamine. While observing her child struggle with withdrawal symptoms and other health problems, Arms tearfully told one registered nurse, “I did this to my child.”
During an interview with 18th West Drug Task Force Investigator Mike May and Investigator Elena Cannon, Arms admitted that she had used methamphetamine on the day before she gave birth, and at least three other times during her pregnancy.
Law enforcement only became aware of the Arms case because hospital staff was required to contact law enforcement when they found the drug pipe. Without the drug pipe, law enforcement would not have been notified of the situation. Prosecuting Attorney Andy Riner stressed that Dolores Hutcheson and Elena Cannon should receive credit because they made it a priority to quickly get a search warrant and preserve blood and urine evidence. Drug testing of blood and urine evidence must be done quickly, or else the body will do its job and break down the drugs.
Riner noted that medical personnel are required to report to the Arkansas Child Abuse Hotline, and they did so in this case. Usually calls to the Hotline are reported to the Prosecuting Attorney, but reports of drug babies calls are in a different class. “I don’t know all the reasons why these cases are not reported to law enforcement, but having interviewed several doctors, it seems as if they are concerned that if these cases are prosecuted, drug addicted expectant mothers will not seek prenatal care and maybe even choose not to go to the hospital to give birth.”