N.J. court says cocaine in newborn’s system does not equal neglect

    New Jersey’s Supreme Court has ruled that a Cape May County woman did not neglect her newborn baby who was born with cocaine in his system in 2007. The ruling overturned a finding of neglect by a lower court.

    Meredith Schalick, a professor at Rutgers School of Law-Camden, had been following the case closely. She says the court’s decision boils down to this:

    “Just because the mother tested positive for drugs or the baby tested positive for drugs upon birth, that’s not enough to say under New Jersey law that the mother abused or neglected that newborn baby,” Schalick said.

    Writing for a unanimous court, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said the state’s Division of Youth and Family Services failed to provide evidence of actual or imminent harm to the baby.

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    Since state law does not extend to a fetus, it’s the condition of the child after birth that matters in court, Rabner wrote.

    Schalick says Wednesday’s ruling may kick start conversation in the state legislature. 

    “Right now our statute, our Title 9 abuse and neglect statute, does not expand to unborn children, does not expand to a fetus,” said Schalick. “But other states have made the choice to expand it. And so that’s certainly something that could be up for discussion here in New Jersey.”

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