Court: Bias shown in sending pregnant woman to prison

By Ed White
Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) — A woman who was sentenced to prison because a judge believed she would use drugs while pregnant has been released after the Michigan appeals court accused him of “extreme bias.”

Samantha Hughes gave birth to a boy on July 2. The appeals court last week threw out a 13-month sentence for tampering with her tether, an electronic monitoring device, and ordered her release from prison.

In a 2-1 opinion, the court said Grand Traverse County Judge Thomas Power discriminated against Hughes last December by sending her to prison because she was pregnant.

Hughes had a history of drug use but told the judge that she hadn’t used drugs during previous pregnancies and “would never jeopardize my children or baby.”

“Essentially, the trial court determined defendant’s sentence term based on her pregnancy due date. ...We conclude that the trial court's reasoning behind defendant's sentence is constitutionally inappropriate, prejudicial and exemplifies extreme bias,” said judges Kathleen Jansen and Jane Beckering at the appeals court. Hughes, 29, was released Wednesday after nearly seven months. She declined to comment. Her attorney, Jordan Leff, said a prison stay wasn’t proportionate to her crime.

“She’s emotionally and physically exhausted,” Leff said. “She’s happy to be back to her family.”

Power, meanwhile, has no regrets about his decision to send Hughes to prison and said he would “absolutely”do it again.

“This isn't even a close call,” the judge told The Associated Press. “She very likely would have relapsed and done drugs. The potential damage was very real. It was better for her, better for society and obviously better for the child.”

The case made two trips to different panels at the appeals court. On June 20, judges Jonathan Tukel and Mark Cavanagh said Hughes’ appeal had no merit and rejected it. Judge Elizabeth Gleicher disagreed.

The Michigan Supreme Court intervened on June 28 and ordered the appeals court to take the case.