Pregnant woman unjustly sentenced, state court decides

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By Marie E. Matyjaszek

In a unique case, the Michigan Court of Appeals recently reversed the Grand Traverse Circuit Court’s sentencing of Samantha Hughes in a July 9, 2019 ruling. 

Samantha was no stranger to legal trouble, and in the summer of 2018, she pleaded guilty to use of methamphetamine and tampering with an electronic monitoring device (yeah, she cut off her tether). She managed to strike a deal with the prosecution, but later violated the terms of her probation. 

At her November and December 2018 hearings, her lawyer advised the court that Samantha was pregnant, and revealed her due date of July 2019.  At her sentencing, the court discussed what it apparently considered a legal quagmire on the record, noting Samantha’s history of methamphetamine and cocaine use, and the fact that she was pregnant. The court was concerned that if Samantha was not incarcerated at the time of the baby’s birth, she could expose the unborn child to drugs, causing a myriad of harm. 

Despite Samantha’s statement that she would “never jeopardize my children or baby due to any drugs,” and the fact that her previous two pregnancies were void of substance abuse, the judge pressed on. The court commented that fetal alcohol syndrome and drug use while pregnant left those children with a life-long disability, and this was not a risk the judge would take. Samantha was sentenced for no less than 13 months and no more than 24 months, with the court crediting her 143 days for time served.  Most notably, the court opined, “[t]hat will get her out probably a month after she delivers the child, that sounds just about right to me, and that will give us a healthy baby hopefully, and not just us but give [defendant] and her family a healthy baby to work with and for all society, so that’s what we’re doing.”

Samantha appealed her original denial of the delayed application, and the Michigan Supreme Court remanded the case to the Court of Appeals. Her argument was simple:  but for her pregnancy, her sentencing would have been different. The lower court could not have been more clear as to why Samantha received the jail time to which she was sentenced. 

The Court of Appeals held that the trial court’s “reasoning behind defendant’s sentence is constitutionally inappropriate, prejudicial, and exemplifies extreme bias.” Discrimination based on a woman’s pregnancy is discrimination based on sex, and the sentence could not stand.  Samantha’s sentence was vacated and she was granted bond and immediate release. Her re-sentencing occurred in front of a new judge, who sentenced her to time served, and reduced fines to assist the new mother.

Unfortunately, the Court of Appeals ruling came days after she had given birth behind bars, but symbolically on her due date of July 9.

(The author is an Attorney Referee at the Washtenaw County Friend of the Court; however, the views expressed in this column are her own. Her blog site is: http://legalbling.blog spot.com. She can be reached by e-mailing her at matyjasz@hotmail.com.)

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