When Nina Buckhalter was arrested in Hattiesburg a few years ago, Lamar County District Attorney Hal Kittrell says he never expected so much public interest in the case, which is now before the State Supreme Court.
Buckhalter was charged with culpable manslaughter after she gave birth to a stillborn child. Kittrell says the death was because of the Buckhalter's drug abuse.
A Lamar County circuit judge, however, threw out the charge saying current law doesn't intend to criminalize pregnant woman whose drug use harms or injures an unborn fetus.
Kittrell wants those charges reinstated and Buckhalter to stand trial, which is why the high court is now involved.
"We believe that anytime you have a woman that is pregnant, who ingests illegal, illicit drugs to the point that it causes that child's death, we believe it's a crime," said Kittrell.
Buckhalter's attorney Robert McDuff argues the same position as the judge who threw out the charges.
"This is really sort of a dangerous prosecution," said McDuff.
McDuff says state law does not authorize the criminal prosecution of women for the outcome of their pregnancies and doing so would set a harmful precedent.
"If this prosecution is allowed to go forward, I really do think you open up a real can of worms where every action that a woman takes during her pregnancy could be subject to review by the police and by the prosecutors if she unintentionally suffered a miscarriage or a stillbirth," said McDuff.
Kittrell says that would not happen and that the case in question is case specific.
"We're not after stillborn babies, we're not after pregnant women. What we are after is justice for a child who should not be dead because of ingestion of illicit drugs. That's what we're after," said Kittrell.
Arguments lasted about an hour Tuesday afternoon. Each side was given 30 minutes to argue its case. There's no word yet on when the court will make its ruling.
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