Felony Child Endangerment for Prenatal or Breastfed Drug Exposure

Two Utah mothers have been arrested within the last month for child endangerment after their babies experienced prenatal or breastfed drug exposure.

Born addicted

Photo by: Sander van der Wel

A Tooele Utah mother was arrested late last month after her baby was born prematurely and with drugs in its system. 20 year old Shay Christensen gave birth to her baby just 1 week shy of her third trimester while in the bathroom during a prenatal appointment. While the preemie survived its premature birth, both mother and infant tested positive for illicit drugs and Christensen was arrested for felony child endangerment.

Tainted breast milk

Last week a 3 day old baby boy was rushed to the hospital in St. George after the infant stopped breathing and turned blue. During an investigation, a needle full of heroin was discovered in a diaper bag and the mother admitted it was hers. 29 year old Elizabeth Canon told police she had used heroin and then breastfed her baby multiple times. After ingesting the tainted breastmilk, the baby ceased breathing and CPR was performed until paramedics arrived. Canon was booked in the Washington County Jail on felony child endangerment.

Felony child endangerment

Utah Code 76-5-112.5 states regarding felony child endangerment:

(a)“A person is guilty of a felony of the third degree if the person knowingly or intentionally causes or permits a child . . . to be exposed to, inhale, ingest, or have contact with a controlled substance, chemical substance, or drug paraphernalia; . . .
(b)A person is guilty of a felony of the second degree if the person engages in the conduct described [above]; and as a result, a child . . . suffers bodily injury, substantial bodily injury, or serious bodily injury; . . .
(c)A person is guilty of a felony of the first degree if the person engages in the conduct described [above] and as a result of the conduct . . . a child . . . dies.”

Both Utah mothers are facing second degree felonies since their babies suffered injuries due to the parent’s drug use; One being born prematurely and with injuries from the mother using while pregnant and the other’s respiratory system going into distress after being exposed to drugs while breastfeeding. A second degree felony in Utah is punishable by a possible prison term of one to 15 years as well as fine of up to $10,000.

Substance abuse during pregnancy

Photo by: Torsten Mangner

Both Utah women are suspected of using drugs during pregnancy and while many parents couldn’t imagine exposing an unborn baby or infant to drugs, it is more common than people think. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “there was a five-fold increase in the proportion of babies born with NAS [neonatal abstinence syndrome] from 2000 to 2012, when an estimated 21,732 infants were born with NAS – equivalent to one baby suffering from opiate withdrawal born every 25 minutes.” Although many pregnant mothers are able to get rid or unhealthy or dangerous habits for the sake of their unborn child, addiction is hard for many to overcome-regardless of their born and unborn children who are depending on them to stay sober.

Seek help

Those who are looking for help with substance abuse including parents or soon to be parents are encouraged to call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 1-800-622-HELP(4357). According to their website, “SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 265-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.” They go on to note “This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations.” For legal questions or aid regarding criminal charges related to substance abuse and its effect on the loved ones of those suffering from addiction, contact a criminal defense attorney.

Spanking – Parental Discipline or Child Abuse?

Spanking has a long history of being used as a form of discipline and while still a prevalent form of punishment in several homes throughout the United States, is mistakenly considered by many to be a form of child abuse.

Corporal punishment

Photo by: Wesley Fryer

Spanking is a way in which parents and other authority figures have used to punish children and minors into submission by inflicting physical pain to their body; usually the buttocks. This type of discipline is known as corporal punishment. Corporal punishment was used freely by any adult wishing to discipline a child up until the late 1970’s when spanking by anyone other than parents, such as teachers or school staff, started to receive criticism. 31 states have now banned corporal punishment in schools while the other 19 including Idaho and Arizona are either for it, or not openly against it. Corporal punishment at home is still allowed in all states to some degree.

Parental discipline

Although the number of adults who approve of spanking is on a steady decline nationwide, many parents and guardians still respond to their children’s unruly behavior by giving them a swat on the behind. Spanking is often done with an open hand but can also be done using items such as a belt or a switch, which usually inflicts more severe pain than a hand alone. While not all parents agree on spanking, a large number of adults believe spanking with an object is most certainly unlawful.

Belts and switches

The use of belts, switches and the like in carrying out corporal punishment at home may seem harsh, but they aren’t against the law. In B.T. and S.T. v State of Utah (2017), the parents of four children under the age of 18 were said to have been abused after the parents used belts to spank their children. The courts concurred with the abuse charges, stating “the court cannot envision a scenario where striking or hitting a child of any age, would be appropriate or reasonable discipline.” They also acknowledged that the use of spanking was decreasing in popularity stating that “[w]e’ve evolved beyond it being appropriate to strike a child with an object” and “[t]he simple striking of the child with a belt caused pain and is abuse.”

Justification as defense

Contrary to the court’s original ruling, spanking children with or without a belt is not illegal under Utah law. In fact, Utah Code 76-2-401 states: “Conduct which is justified is a defense to prosecution for any offense based on the conduct. The defense of justification may be claimed: ( . . . ) when the actor’s conduct is reasonable discipline of minors by parents, guardians, teachers, or other persons in loco parentis [unless] the offense charged involved causing serious bodily injury.” The parents the above mentioned case admitted to using a belt to discipline their children, however there were no physical signs of abuse visible from their discipline. The court later reviewed their ruling in which they claimed that hitting a child with an object is abuse and deemed it too vague, giving the examples of how a pillow fight or playing with Nerf swords would fall into the same definition. Utah Code 76-5-109 reiterates that child abuse means “those offenses that cause physical injury to the child” and not for conduct that includes “the use of reasonable and necessary physical restraint or force on a child.”

Ineffective punishment

While spanking may be legal, pediatricians and researchers continue to discourage parents from using it as a form of punishment. Spanking is often done to stop unwanted behavior, such as disobedience and aggression, however current research has shown it to be ineffective, with unwanted behavior escalating instead of diminishing. The American Academy of Pediatrics has also done studies regarding the connection between children who are punished physically and future mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. For those parents who have failed to learn and put into practice a more effective way of disciplining their children, they should ensure that any corporal punishment used in the home does not escalate to the point of child abuse and to consult with an attorney should any charges arise.

Intentional Child Abuse Charges for Utah Mom Who Locked Son in Bathroom for a Year

A southern Utah mom is facing intentional child abuse charges after authorities discovered she had been keeping her 12 year old son locked in a bathroom for over a year.

Neglected basic needs of a child

Photo by : Purgatory Correctional Facility

Photo by : Purgatory Correctional Facility

Authorities responded to a welfare check at a southern Utah home after a dramatically underweight and malnourished 12 year old boy was brought into the local hospital by his father. Police obtained a warrant and searched the home of the boy’s mother, 36 year old Brandy Jaynes of Toquerville, Utah. There were three children who were living in the home with Jaynes; two of the children appeared to be in normal health while police found evidence that the emaciated boy who was brought into the hospital had been living in a locked bathroom among his own feces ,with no light and little to no food.

Intentional child abuse

Photo by: C.P.Storm

Photo by: C.P.Storm

The 36 year old mother of three was booked into Purgatory Correctional Facility on a $10,000 bail and is facing up to 15 years in prison for second degree intentional child abuse. According to Utah Code 76-5-109, “any person who inflicts upon a child serious physical injury ( . . . ) is guilty of an offense as follows: If done intentionally or knowingly, the offense is a felony of the second degree. “ This section defines seriously physical injury as “injuries that:

(A) seriously impairs the child’s health;

(B) involves physical torture;

(C) causes serious emotional harm to the child; or

(D) involves a substantial risk of death to the child.

Serious physical injury includes: ( . . . ) any conduct toward a child that results in severe emotional harm, severe developmental delay or intellectual disability, or severe impairment of the child’s ability to function; ( . . . ) any conduct that results in starvation or failure to thrive or malnutrition that jeopardizes the child’s life.”

Locked away and forgotten

Aggravated Intentional Child Abuse

Photo by: Joel Penner

Investigators are attempting to piece together information surrounding this family and the public is demanding to know why no one had checked on the boy earlier. By the time his father took him to receive medical treatment, the boy weighed 30 pounds and could not stand and support his own weight. The 12 year old boy had been taken out of school over a year prior to the search on the Toquerville Utah home yet neither school officials, neighbors, family, nor friends had apparently inquired of the boy’s whereabouts. One of the siblings admitted to knowing their brother was in the bathroom and had spoken to him through the door, but it had been months since they last spoke. It is not known where the father of the boy was during the boy’s bathroom imprisonment, and whether or not he had any knowledge of the circumstances his son had been living in for an extended period of time.

Mindset of a troubled parent

Photo by: Porsche Brosseau

Photo by: Porsche Brosseau

Police are understandably concerned with the irrational thinking of the mother who claimed the malnourished boy wanted to sleep in the bathroom and that she felt she was keeping him safe in the locked room while she was away from the house. Although the boy was obviously neglected and living in horrible circumstances, the mother was keeping an eye on him. There was Wi-Fi enabled video monitoring that was streaming to the mother’s cell phone, as well as a baby monitor that could transmit messages from the mother to her son. There are residents that live near the home that claim the area has a high volume of drug use, however authorities have not answered this speculation with any information regarding whether or not the mother was using illegal drugs. It has also not been divulged whether or not the 36 year old has a history of mental illness, or whether or not the boy had special needs that the mother was unable to cope with, however a mental illness would help make this story of intentional child abuse easier to swallow than a mother who intentionally neglected her child to near starvation. More information on the case is forthcoming.