Earlier this year, Tennessee passed a new law allowing for the criminal prosecution of women who are deemed to have used controlled substances during pregnancy. Governor Bill Haslam signed Senate Bill 1391 into law in April against the advice of numerous medical and addiction professionals, including the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Instead of charging the new mothers with a drug-related offense, however, the Tennessee law allows a prosecutor to pursue assault charges. The new law provides that a woman may be charged with assault if any of the following occur:

  • Her child is born addicted to narcotics; or
  • Her child is deemed to have been otherwise harmed by the use of narcotics during pregnancy.

Though enactment of this law does not have a direct effect on residents of Illinois, it sets a potentially dangerous precedent, as other states may shortly begin to propose similar legislation.

Assault Charges in Illinois

If a woman were to be charged with assault in Illinois, she would face potentially harsh consequences under state law. Assault is generally a Class C misdemeanor, which means a woman could face up to 30 days in jail and up to a $1,500 fine. Additionally, many people convicted of assault must undergo probation, perform community service, and will likely be disqualified from certain jobs in the future, among other things.

Social Impact of this Type of Law

Aside from the criminal consequences of assault charges, the threat of retroactive prosecution against women who use drugs while pregnant may have other negative effects, as well. Experts believe that such a law may serve as a deterrent to pregnant women from seeking proper prenatal care or treatment for a drug addiction. Pregnant women may fear that clinics or treatment centers may turn them in if any evidence of drug use is discovered. This avoidance of proper care or treatment may put a fetus in unnecessary danger if other health issues or complications arise.

Such a law could especially target lower income people who have limited or no access to healthcare, birth control, or treatment centers. Though laws should not have a disparate impact on certain classes, races, or other minority groups, the effect of many laws is unfortunately just that. Drug laws in particular often result in the jailing of a disproportionate amount of lower income people, African-Americans, and other minority groups. Extending drug laws to pregnant women based on the outcome of their pregnancies will likely only exacerbate this effect of drug laws.

Contact an Experienced Chicago Criminal Defense Lawyer for help

Chicago defense attorney Steven Goldman has extensive experience defending clients facing assault charges, drug-related charges, and other criminal offenses in Illinois. Criminal laws evolve and Mr. Goldman always stays on top of any new potential changes in the laws and how to apply those changes to your particular case. If you have been arrested or charged for any type of criminal offense, do not hesitate to contact Goldman & Associates for assistance as soon as possible.