Utah Mother Arrested For Felony Child Abandonment

A Utah mother was arrested for felony child abandonment after authorities found her children to be living in deplorable circumstances.

Unsafe living conditions

39 year old Virginia Mary Martinez, a resident of the Shivwits Indian Reservation in Washington County, Utah was arrested after officers responding to a call about a loud verbal fight found Martinez living in a trashed trailer along with two small children. The young children, ages 2 and 3, were dirty and hungry with visible skin ailments due to the living conditions. The home Martinez and the children were living in was falling apart and crawling with bugs. After an investigation into the conditions at the Martinez home, the Division of Child and Family Services removed the toddlers and Martinez was arrested for child abandonment.

Child abandonment

Utah Code 76-5-109 regarding child abuse states: “Child abandonment’ means that a parent or legal guardian of a child;
• . . . Intentionally fails to make reasonable arrangements for the safety, care, and physical custody of the child; and
• . . . intentionally fails to provide the child with food, shelter, or clothing . . .
A person who commits child abandonment . . . [is] guilty of a felony of the third degree”.

Rehabilitation

Martinez is reported by a family member to have a possible drug problem and had admitted to not being able to obtain food for her children as she had no means of transportation. Now that Martinez has lost her children for an undetermined period and is behind bars, let this be an opportunity for her to obtain treatment for her addictions and hopefully be healthy enough to be reunited with her children later on. For more information on drug treatment options for those who are trying to raise children while fighting addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National helpline at 1-800-662-HELP. For legal counsel contact a criminal defense attorney.

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.