Meth exposure case dismissed

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SANDPOINT — A felony child injury charge is being dismissed against a Bonner County woman accused of exposing her unborn child to methamphetamine.

Katherine Elaine Johnson was was accused of using the central nervous system stimulant between February and November of last year, according to court documents. The child was born at Bonner General Health and tested positive for meth and marijuana.

Johnson, 25, allegedly admitted using pot for pain management and had used meth less than a half-dozen times while carrying the child to term, a probable cause affidavit said.

Johnson pleaded not guilty and was scheduled to be tried in 1st District Court in June.

Johnson’s defense counsel, Sandpoint attorney Michael Waldrup, moved to dismiss the case against Johnson on grounds that the law she was being prosecuted under did not apply to fetuses. Allowing the case to continue would create an impermissible expansion of state law, Waldrup maintained.

Moreover, prosecution of Johnson would be contrary to the guidance of medical groups and associations.

“Medical groups have consistently stated that such prosecutions will result in an increased danger to children by deterring women from seeking out medical care and being able to speak openly to their doctors,” Waldrup said in court documents.

Those groups include the National Council on Alcohol & Drug Dependence and the National Perinatal Association, among others.

Doctor Richard Hern also submitted an affidavit in the case.

“There is an unusually large consensus among professional medical associations — the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics — that punishment of women in relation to their drug use is harmful health policy. The recommended response to substance use and substance use disorders is health care, not punishment,” Hearn wrote.

Several days before the defense motion was to be taken up in district court, Bonner County Deputy Prosecutor Katherine Murdock moved to dismiss the case. Murdock said the dismissal was in the interest of justice because the state’s goal of protecting the child had been achieved outside the criminal process.

“There is presently no evidence of injuries to the baby, the defendant his filed proof of completion of substance abuse treatment, the Department of Health & Welfare has been involved to appropriately assess any risk to the baby and has placed the baby with the defendant,” Murdock wrote.

Judge Barbara Buchanan granted the state’s motion on April 14, court records indicate.

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