November 26, 2008

Child endangerment charges are being scrutinized again

Child endangerment charges are being scrutinized again



A New York watchdog organization will have its eyes on McLean County Dec. 4.

That’s when the state Supreme Court will be hearing an argument from the National Advocates for Pregnant Women that Michelle Geiser Behles’ charge of child endangerment should be overturned.

Behles, formerly of Garrison, is serving a five-year prison sentence at the correctional facility at New England, N.D. on drug charges and entered a conditional guilty plea to child endangerment, which allowed her the right to appeal.

Behles’ lawyers said the unborn fetus is not legally a child under the state’s child endangerment law. In the appeal, Tom Dickson, a Bismarck attorney, and two New York attorneys will argue that the court’s decision lacks a foundation in law and threatens maternal and fetal health throughout North Dakota.

Behles was prosecuted under a 2000 law that has never been applied to unborn children. The law was designed to aid in the prosecution of parents who were engaged in illegal drug activities.

Behles’ attorneys argue in their written brief:

• The state law was intended for individuals under the age of 18.

• Expanding the law to apply to pregnant women undermines both maternal and fetal health. Pregnant women using drugs will avoid drug treatment, prenatal care and labor and delivery care if they think there will be criminal charges.

• The threat of criminal prosecution will deter drug-dependant women from sharing the information with their physicians.

• Expanding the law will deter women who suffered a stillbirth or miscarriage from seeking help coping.

• The stillborn birth cannot necessarily be blamed on the drug use.

• Expanding the law will not protect fetal health or deter prenatal drug use.

• Addiction is a biological and genetic affliction and expanding the law will not influence the addiction.

Ladd Erickson, McLean County states attorney, writes in his brief:

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