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.

Felony Child Endangerment for Drugs in Reach of Children

Two individuals from American Fork Utah are facing a variety of drug charges along with felony child endangerment for storing drugs within the reach of children in the home.

Other people’s children

Child Endangerment

Photo by: Mary T Moore

25 year old Zachery Walters and 24 year old Hilary Lay were staying in the basement portion of a home that belonged to another person when they were arrested for possessing hefty amounts of cocaine and marijuana. The quantity of the drugs confiscated was large enough to bring distribution charges. While the couple knowingly possessed illegal drugs, they likely failed to realize they would also be facing additional felony charges for child endangerment since the landlord’s children had bedrooms nearby; thus potentially putting the kids at risk of coming into contact with the drugs.

3rd degree felony child endangerment

Child endangerment is a 3rd degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of $5,000. Utah Code 76-5-112.5 states regarding endangerment of a child that “a person is guilty of a felony of the third degree if the person knowingly or intentionally causes or permits a child or a vulnerable adult to be exposed to, inhale, ingest, or have contact with a controlled substance, chemical substance, or drug paraphernalia;”

A technicality

While there are no reports or evidence that any children in the home that Walters and Lay were staying in had come in contact with drugs, section 112.5 clarifies that “exposed to” can mean that because of the where the children were in proximity to the drugs, they could have potentially possessed, seen, or even smelled the illegal drugs or paraphernalia. Although Walters and Lay will likely face some drug charges, there are other charges which could be considered questionable such as distribution and child endangerment. An experienced criminal defense attorney is always suggested but would be greatly recommended in a case such as this.

Child Endangerment Resulting in Death

A 1 year old baby girl from Provo Utah died of a heroin overdose earlier this month and it is possible that charges for child endangerment resulting in death may follow.

Infant overdose

Photo by: Janine

Photo by: Janine

1 year old Penny Cormani died January 2 after somehow ingesting a lethal amount of heroin. The mother of the baby girl found the 1 year old unresponsive and turning purple in her crib following a routine nap. Penny was rushed to the hospital where she was pronounced dead. An autopsy performed on the child found enough heroin in her system to prove fatal along with traces of another drug, codeine.

Fault of the homeowner or the parent?

Penny’s mother stated she left the baby unattended briefly in a living room of a friend’s home which they were staying in temporarily while the mother tended to some laundry. After hearing the mother’s statement and hearing the findings of the autopsy, police searched the house and discovered several pieces of paraphernalia scattered in multiple rooms of the house. Penny’s mother and father claim the contraband belonged to the homeowners while the homeowners claim the parents were at fault. Until the investigation is complete, it isn’t clear whose paraphernalia was found in the home and all adult parties living there are potential suspects as they all have histories of drug abuse. While no one is found to be directly at fault yet, it is possible that both the parents AND the homeowners could face charges for child endangerment resulting in death because the items were located in private and shared areas.

Child endangerment resulting in death

Utah Code 76-5-112.5 states regarding child endangerment: “Unless a greater penalty is otherwise provided by law, any person who knowingly or intentionally causes or permits a child ( . . . ) to be exposed to, to ingest or inhale, or to have contact with a controlled substance, chemical substance, or drug paraphernalia ( . . . )is guilty of a felony of the third degree. “ 76-5-112.5 also states that if “a child ( . . . ) actually suffers bodily injury, substantial bodily injury, or serious bodily injury by exposure to, ingestion of, inhalation of, or contact with a controlled substance, chemical substance, or drug paraphernalia, [the person] is guilty of a felony of the second degree[. Regarding child endangerment resulting in death] unless the exposure, ingestion, inhalation, or contact results in the death of the child ( . . . ), in which case the person is guilty of a felony of the first degree.”

Five to Life

If either the parents or the homeowners are found guilty of child endangerment resulting in death for the demise of Penny Cormani, they could face five years to life in prison for a 1st degree felony. Even if authorities can’t tie the paraphernalia directly to any person, by allowing dangerous items to remain in plain view and reach in the home where Penny Cormani was staying, all adults could potentially be charged with child endangerment resulting in death. This lack of babyproofing or drugproofing the home could be “knowingly ( . . . ) permit[ing] a child to be exposed to ( . . . )a controlled substance.”

Know who you’re living with

Photo by: Mr. Theklan

Photo by: Mr. Theklan

Currently there is no proof that any of the adults in the home of Penny Cormani intentionally meant to harm her, however having paraphernalia laced with heroin laying around the house was dangerous. Prosecutors will likely make sure that someone ends up doing time for child endangerment resulting in death; The question is who? For those who are temporarily staying with friends or allow others to live in their home, it is critical to know what your roommates are doing and what they bring into the shared home. Anyone facing charges for a crime that a roommate was responsible for or for charges related to child endangerment should contact a criminal defense attorney. For information on receiving help to overcome drug abuse, contact the public health department in your area.