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PJC Brief Argues Prosecuting Addicted Mothers Is Counterproductive

December 2, 2005: The Public Justice Center’s Appellate Advocacy Project filed an amicus brief in the case of Kelly Lynn Cruz v. State of Maryland on appeal to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.  The case involved the Talbot County, Maryland State Attorney’s decision to criminally prosecute Kelly Lynn Cruz, a thirty-year old woman, under the theory that Ms. Cruz’s ingestion of cocaine during pregnancy contributed to the birth of her son with a low birth weight.  The Circuit Court for Talbot County found Ms. Cruz guilty of violating the state crime of endangering the welfare of another.  Ms. Cruz is currently incarcerated.
On appeal, PJC submitted an amicus brief contending that the trial court’s decision lacked foundation in law and medical science and informing the Court of the dangers the trial court’s decision portends for pregnant women, their children, treatment professionals, and their patients in general.  Specifically, the amici argued that:

(1) the prosecution of Ms. Cruz for being pregnant and addicted to cocaine vitiates the longstanding recognition by the courts and the medical community that addiction is a disease that requires treatment, not a crime;
(2) over the course of nearly two decades, every leading medical organization, governmental body, and nearly every court to consider the question has concluded that inserting the criminal law into these situations is likely to produce worse outcomes for children carried by pregnant women because it will deter pregnant drug users from seeking drug treatment and prenatal care;
(3) such prosecutions are also counterproductive because, through arrest, the State removes the mother from the child, and the latter is likely to suffer serious psychological harm as a result of the deprivation of the parental bond at a critical point of their lives – just after birth;
(4) scientific and medical evidence fail to substantiate the alleged harms that prompted the prosecution of Ms. Smith; and
(5) the criminal prosecution policy contravenes a key policy that the Maryland General Assembly has adopted to protect children:  the provision of child protective services in a civil, not criminal, context.
The brief was written by Murnaghan Appellate Advocacy Fellow Roscoe Jones, Jr. and also signed by Suzanne Sangree, Director of Appellate Advocacy at the PJC and Lynn Paltrow of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women. The brief was filed on behalf of the International Center for the Advancement of Opioid Dependence, National Council on Alcoholism (National and Maryland chapters), Maryland Society of Addiction Medicine, NAADC-The Association for Addiction Professionals, Obstetrical and Gynecologic Society of Maryland, and 34 other concerned organizations and professionals.

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