A decision handed down in the Michigan Court of Appeals recently may have ripple effects on other cases currently pending, as well as in the future. The Court of Appeals decided that a fetus is not legally a baby, and therefore is not covered under Michigan’s description of “child” in the legal definition of child abuse.
The original ruling was determined in the case of Melissa Lee Jones. The court threw out a child abuse charge against her because her baby was born with drugs in his system. According to the decision, “a fetus is not included within the statutory definition of ‘child,’ and she therefore could not have caused harm to a ‘child’… simply by using methamphetamine during her pregnancy.”
But now this ruling may be used as a basis for dismissing charges against another young mother who was accused of child abuse for doing drugs during her pregnancy. 21-year-old Kayla Wagoner recently lost custody of her son courtesy of criminal charges against her, and was also accused of child abuse.
According to court records, Wagoner delivered a son at Oaklawn Hospital in Marshall. The baby was tested and discovered to have meth in his system. CPS was contacted and the baby was taken and placed in foster care. Wagoner was charged with child abuse. However she was already involved in another criminal investigation and facing charges for larceny.
Wagoner and her boyfriend, 28-year-old Paul Goetz-Hoke, were both implicated in a conspiracy to defraud Gander Mountain. Wagoner distracted the sales clerks while Goetz-Hoke stole ammunition. The couple pulled the heist numerous times until Coldwater Gun and Pawn, where Goetz-Hoke resold the ammo for cash to support his heroin addiction, called the police.
An investigation revealed that he had stolen a total of $14,419 worth of ammunition in order to purchase drugs. Goetz-Hoke pleaded guilty to First Degree Retail Fraud and Organized Retail Crime , both five year felonies, but Wagoner received only 90 days of jail time and two years of probation.
The reason for the disparity in their sentences was that Goetz-Hoke was the one stealing, while Wagoner never took anything herself, and never saw the crime being perpetrated. In her testimony, she explained to the Judge because she never actually saw him take anything, she chose to believe that he wasn’t stealing.
She told the court that he took her to a storage unit where he kept the ammunition. He told her that the stash belonged to his father. Because she loved her boyfriend, she chose to accept his version of reality.
According to her defense attorney, Wagoner wants to get her life in order and regain custody of her son. A goal that may well be achievable, given the fact that the recent ruling has invalidated the abuse charge against her.
Brandy Thompson, a Family Law attorney at The Kronzek Firm, states “This recent ruling will have far reaching implications not just for criminal matters, but issues regarding CPS as well as custody cases as well. It will be interesting to see how the various trial courts will interpret this holding to individual cases.”