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Florida Supreme Court Reverses Cocaine Mom’s Conviction

July 24, 1992

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ The state Supreme Court has reversed the conviction of the first woman found guilty in Florida of delivering cocaine to her two children during her pregnancies.

In striking down the two convictions Thursday, a unanimous seven-member court said prosecutors wrongly interpreted a state law against delivering drugs to minors.

″The Court declines the state’s invitation to walk down a path that the law, public policy and common sense forbid it to tread,″ Justice Major Best Harding wrote.

Lynn Paltrow, a lawyer at the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy in New York City who represented Jennifer Clarise Johnson, said the decision brings to 19 the number of courts nationwide that have taken such a stand.

″This is a victory for women and their children, a victory for families struggling to deal with the problems of drug abuse and a victory for the privacy rights of all Americans,″ Paltrow said.

Deputy Attorney General Pete Antonacci was disappointed. ″It’s another weapon that’s taken out of the state’s arsenal,″ he said.

In July 1989, Johnson became the first woman in Florida convicted under a law that prohibits delivering drugs to minors. The statute is normally used against drug traffickers.

She had a son in 1987 and a daughter in 1989. Both had cocaine in their bodies. She admitted using cocaine during her pregnancies.

After being found guilty of two counts of delivering drugs to minors, Johnson was sentenced to a year of residential drug treatment, 14 years of probation and 200 hours of community service.

In May, the 26-year-old woman was ordered back to a rehabilitation program for violating her probation. Her children are staying with relatives.

Prosecutors have increasingly used similar criminal statutes to arrest women on charges of taking drugs or drinking during pregnancy.

But such prosecutions are opposed by public health authorities, including the American Medical Association, on the grounds that they deter drug users from seeking prenatal care and drug treatment.

Paltrow said Johnson, now in a residential drug treatment program in Largo, cried when she learned of the ruling.

″She said, ’What does this mean? Does this mean I’m not a criminal anymore?″ Paltrow said.

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