Archive for Tuesday, October 7, 2003

Court sidesteps stillbirth case blamed on drug use

October 7, 2003

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— Opening its new term, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal Monday from a drug addict who was sent to prison for murdering her stillborn child, a case with implications for future rulings on abortion.

Regina McKnight is serving 12 to 20 years in South Carolina for killing her daughter. McKnight tested positive for cocaine in the hospital and acknowledged that she had used crack cocaine while pregnant. The dead child had drugs in her system.

McKnight's lawyers say she is the only woman convicted of homicide after suffering a stillbirth. She challenged her treatment as cruel and unusual punishment, and her case also raised questions about the legal and constitutional rights of pregnant women.

State laws about fetal rights vary, and the Supreme Court has not conclusively spoken on the issue. The court allowed legalized abortion nationwide in the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling and has underscored the right to an abortion in later rulings.

Abortion rights groups generally oppose efforts to increase fetal rights, out of fear new laws will be used to bar abortions. Supporters of fetal protection laws, such as one making its way through Congress, say the laws are meant to go after abusive husbands, rapists and other attackers who harm fetuses.

In other action Monday the court:

  • Refused to stop about 2,600 current and former black managers from suing food services company Sodexho Marriott in what the company described as the largest employment discrimination case of its kind.
  • Declined to consider appeals from General Motors Corp. over class-action lawsuits that accused the carmaker of concealing defective buckles on seat belts.
  • Rejected appeals from former American prisoners of war and others who claim they were forced to work for private Japanese companies as slave laborers during World War II. The court's action ends lawsuits in California against Japanese firms or their successors that allegedly forced prisoners six decades ago to work in mines and dig roads.
  • Refused to intervene in a lawsuit filed by a Nevada man freed after 14 years on death row for a murder he always claimed he did not commit. The action means Roberto Miranda can sue over his claims that an inexperienced public defender did next to nothing to help him avoid conviction and a death sentence in 1982.

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