Ruling that Woman Can Be Convicted of "Homicide by Child Abuse" for Causing Stillbirth of Viable Fetus by Using Cocaine Not Disturbed

State v. McKnight, 576 S.E.2d 168 (S.C. 2003), cert. denied, McKnight v. South Carolina, 124 S. Ct. 101 (2003)

The Supreme Court declined to review a ruling by the South Carolina Supreme Court that a woman could be convicted of the crime of homicide by child abuse and sentenced to 20 years in prison for causing the stillbirth of her viable fetus by using cocaine.  The South Carolina court held that the statute defining the crime of homicide by child abuse could be applied to stillbirths based on prior holdings that the legislature's use of the word "child" encompassed a viable fetus.  In light of common knowledge that cocaine use during pregnancy can harm a fetus, the court determined the statute provided sufficient notice that it could be applied to a woman whose fetus is stillborn.  The court also found that the application of the statute here did not violate constitutional rights of privacy and autonomy, that the sentence was not grossly disproportionate to the offense, and that taking a urine sample from the defendant in the hospital did not violate her Fourth Amendment rights...

Found in DMHL Volume 23 Issue 1