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Prosecutors now seek murder charge in alleged meth breast-milk case

Posted on in Criminal Defense

Prosecutors are now seeking murder charges against a Northern California woman whose son died last November due to "methamphetamine toxicity," according to a report in the Times-Standard. In July, the woman appeared in court for a preliminary hearing to defend against an involuntary manslaughter charge.

The judge reportedly ruled that the state had sufficient evidence to support the manslaughter charge. However, prosecutors recently refiled the case charging the woman with murder, claiming that the evidence presented during the preliminary hearing showed the mother acted with "implied malice" when she breast-fed her child after allegedly smoking methamphetamine.

The woman is now vigorously defending against the murder charge arguing that there is no evidence that she acted with a conscious disregard of a danger to human life. Implied malice murder charges are complicated animals under California law.

This blog has previously discussed implied malice murder charges in the context of driving under the influence cases. A so-called "Watson murder" in the context of felony DUI charges is occasionally sought by California prosecutors when there is evidence that the accused knew of the danger to human life based upon prior DUI convictions. Last November, this blog reported the story of a so-called Watson murder DUI case where the jury deadlocked on the second degree murder charge, resulting in a mistrial. The moniker "Watson murder" is derived from prior California case law.

In the current Humboldt County implied malice murder case, the prosecutors and defense are focusing on a California Supreme Court case known as "Knoller." That case involved a dog-mauling incident and also discusses the theory of an implied malice murder charge.

The criminal defense seeks to have the murder charge based upon the implied malice theory thrown out based upon a lack of evidence that the accused had any reason to know that breast-feeding her child would result in the death of the child.

Prosecutors argue that the woman only needed to know that using methamphetamine posed a risk to the child's health and well-being, according to the Times-Standard. The prosecutors claim that the woman admitted to police that she smoked the drug near a vent and away from her children so that the smoke would be vented out of the trailer. It is unclear from news reports when she allegedly smoked the methamphetamine.

Prosecutors claim that the woman's alleged confession that she smoked away from her children is sufficient to support a murder charge under the theory of implied malice. Prosecutors claim the child died, not from smoke, but from ingesting methamphetamine through the mother's breast milk. The judge reportedly has the issue under advisement, and has not issued a ruling on the implied malice murder charge. The 26-year-old Loleta woman is currently being held without bail and no trial date has been set.

Source: The Times-Standard, "Prosecutor: Murder charge appropriate in meth breast milk case," Thadeus Greenson, Nov. 28, 2011

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