SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — An appeals court has revived a federal involuntary manslaughter charge against a South Dakota woman whose baby died hours after he was born from the illegal drugs found in his system.
Samantha Flute was charged with the crime in 2016 when prosecutors said she killed her baby boy by ingesting cocaine and multiple prescription drugs while pregnant.
But when she appealed the indictment, U.S. District Judge Charles B. Kornmann dismissed the charge in 2017, the Argus Leader reported . He ruled that federal assault and murder statutes cannot be applied to a pregnant woman for any actions she takes with respect to her unborn child.
Flute tested positive for cocaine and multiple prescription drugs when she was admitted to the hospital at 38 weeks pregnant. She said she knew the drugs would harm the baby, but that "she needed to get high," according to the appeals court decision. An autopsy found that the combined drug toxicity from the substances Flute ingested while pregnant caused the baby's death.
The U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Kornmann's ruling last week, arguing that the baby falls under the umbrella of victims protected by the federal involuntary manslaughter statute because he was born alive.
"The federal involuntary manslaughter statute applies to a child born alive, who later succumbed to injury suffered in utero, even where that injury was inflicted by the unborn child's own mother," the ruling said.
The 2-1 decision cited the 2002 Born Alive Infants Protection Act that defines "human being" as "every infant member of the species homo sapiens who is born alive at any stage of development."
U.S. Circuit Judge Steven Colloton disagreed, adding that Congress has "not adopted a manslaughter statute that imposes criminal liability on a mother for prenatal conduct that results in the tragic death of her child."
"No federal statute enacted after 1909 has expanded the manslaughter statute to encompass a mother's prenatal neglect," Colloton said.
Information from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com