A State Supreme Court ruling that upheld the convictions of two women accused of ingesting controlled substances while they were pregnant could open the door to more prosecutions under the relatively new statute, Colbert County District Attorney Bryce Graham said Friday.
State Attorney General Luther Strange called Friday’s ruling a landmark victory affirming that the state’s chemical endangerment of a child law does protect unborn children.
In its decision Friday, the court held that “the plain meaning of the word ‘child’ in the chemical endangerment statute includes unborn children,” according to a news release issued by the attorney general’s office.
At the center of the ruling were two cases where women were charged with ingesting illegal substances, specifically cocaine and methamphetamine, while they were pregnant.
One of the cases originated in Colbert County.
Amanda Helaine Borden Kimbrough was charged with chemical endangerment of a child after her premature baby boy died 19 minutes after birth. An autopsy determined that his death was caused by “acute methamphetamine intoxication.”
The 2008 case was tried by Chief Assistant District Attorney Kyle Brown and Assistant District Attorney Angela Hulsey.
“This was a very difficult case to try because it did involve the death of a child,” Hulsey said. “We worked very hard to put this case together.”
Hulsey said the defendant pleaded guilty to chemical endangerment of a child after the prosecution presented its evidence and rested its case.
Kimbrough was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2009.
Hulsey said it was the first time someone was tried under the new statute, which went into effect in 2006.
“One of the main challenges was the manner the statue was applied in this case,” Hulsey said. “The child was exposed to the chemical substance in utero prior to birth. He was not yet born when the exposure occurred. That’s what made this case unique.”
The other case originated in Coffee County and involved a mother who had ingested cocaine while pregnant.
In both cases, the defendants were charged with chemically endangering their children under an Alabama law that makes it a crime to endanger a child by exposing him or her to a controlled substance, a chemical substance such as precursors for manufacturing drugs, or drug paraphernalia.
Hulsey said there are provisions in the statute that involve exposure to illegal substances, exposure that results in serious physical injury to the child and exposure that results in the death of a child.
“Some history has been made here,” Graham said. “It’s a good decision and hopefully it will deter mothers from using drugs while they’re pregnant.”
Hulsey said the office has continued to make cases under the statute.
“Based upon this court ruling, we will continue to do so,” she said.
Graham said he was glad his office was able to play a major role in the ruling.
“I’m thrilled with the decision and I’m thrilled that Alabama’s unborn children have the right to be protected from this type of chemical exposure,” Brown said.
Efforts to reach Kimbrough’s attorney, Rebecca Green Thomason, were unsuccessful Friday.
Russ Corey can be reached at 256-740-5738 or russ.corey@TimesDaily.com.