An Alabama woman has been jailed for alleged drug use during her pregnancy. But she was never pregnant.
Stacey Freeman was arrested and booked in Etowah County after being investigated for drug use by the Department of Human Resources (DHR) when one of her children told a social worker that their mother was pregnant. Freeman denied being pregnant and offered to take a pregnancy test, but she didn’t get one. Instead, she was arrested for chemical endangerment of a child, according to a lawsuit she filed Nov. 7 against the Etowah County Sheriff’s Office.
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“It’s just inconceivable that you could break someone’s word to arrest someone who is pregnant,” said Freeman’s attorney, Martin Weinberg news week. “You know, you criminalize pregnancy, and then you find out they’re not even pregnant.”
Freeman was held at the Etowah County Detention Center for 36 hours, where she says she was forced to sleep on the floor. She says she was menstruating at the time and requested pads but never received them. Her lawsuit also alleges that Etowah County Sheriff Investigation Brandi Fuller warned Freeman after she was released not to become pregnant or face additional charges.
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Freeman’s charge of chemical endangerment of a child was based on the principle of “fetal personality” enshrined in the Alabama Constitution. It redefines an unborn child, particularly an unborn child in utero at any stage of development, regardless of viability, as a human being.
And prosecutors in Alabama have used “fetal personality” to file criminal charges in at least 20 crime cases over the past 23 years, according to an analysis of court records and medical examiner data by The Marshall Project. Many of these trials ended in lengthy prison sentences for women, who were most likely poor and struggling with addiction.
Etowah County has also strictly enforced the use of drugs during pregnancy. Research by Pregnancy Justice found that the county has arrested and prosecuted more women for drug use during pregnancy than any other county in the state. Charges were brought against more than 150 women, and Fuller was implicated in most of the cases.
Freeman eventually received a pregnancy test and was discharged after she tested negative. Her charges were dropped, but they were not cleared, leaving her case and mugshot in the public domain. Though she didn’t spend much time in prison, Weinberg told investigators they could have avoided all of this simply by taking a pregnancy test, which Freeman offered in the first place. He said the sheriff’s department has shown a pattern of aggressive enforcement of the state’s Chemical Hazards Act, which makes it illegal to use drugs during pregnancy.
“It’s good that the charges were dropped,” Weinberg said news week. “But it does hurt to arrest someone and spend two days in jail. Wrongful arrest and malicious arrest are inherently problematic.”
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