BY MELANIE BUCK –
Two Polk County women will remain in the Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC) following a Supreme Court decision to throw out the landmark Polk County conviction of Melissa McCann-Arms. Jessica Fox and Amy Robertson both pled guilty after Arms’ conviction to Introduction of Controlled Substance into the Body of Another Person in Polk County Circuit Court and were both sentenced to 20-years in ADC earlier this year. However, since the Arkansas Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Arms’ conviction on the same charge, Fox and Robertson’s cases were brought back to the surface.
Arms was convicted of Introduction of Controlled Substance into the Body of Another Person and sentenced to 20-years in ADC in 2014. At the time, the conviction was unprecedented and Prosecuting Attorney Andy Riner called on legislators to clarify the law so that the definition of “person” would include ‘an unborn child in utero at any stage of development.’ Legislators answered Riner’s call and State Representative Nate Bell introduced legislation to change the language of the law. After House Bill 1376 passed through the House of Representatives, it died in the Senate, leaving the law the same. All three women’s convictions centered around introducing drugs into their own bodies while pregnant. In the Supreme Court case, the argument was made that a fetus doesn’t count until born and even though all were born with drugs in their systems, there was no proof the drugs entered the child post-birth.
That theory won in the Arkansas Supreme Court, overturning Arms’ conviction. After the decision was overturned, Fox and Robertson were transported from ADC to Polk County where Judge Jerry Ryan appointed the two women defense lawyers so that an explanation of their case could be provided. A condition of pleading guilty in court is that, all appeals processes are foregone by the defendant. Therefore, neither Fox nor Robertson has the right to appeal their convictions. However, days after appointing attorneys, Judge Ryan was informed that he did not have the jurisdictional authority to appoint attorneys for them.
Both Fox and Robertson voiced concerns over the lack of anyone knowing what should be done next. Judge Ryan told them, “The Supreme Court made a decision that affects you but I don’t know what your next step will be. Federal court may be your only relief.”
In the meantime, both women were returned to the Arkansas Department of Corrections to serve their time and look for a possible federal avenue that will relieve them of their charges.