Whitner v. State

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  • Fairness in the Courts
  • Child Abuse
  • Parental Rights
  • Joined Amicus Brief
1997

Determined whether a viable fetus is a child for purposes of South Carolina's child abuse and child endangerment statute.

Summary of the Case

Whitner's pled guilty to charges of child abuse and endangerment for ingesting cocaine while pregnant. Her conviction was vacated on November 22, 1993, after she had spent 18 months in jail. The South Carolina Attorney General sought and was granted certiorari to the Supreme Court of South Carolina, although amici opposed the State's appeal.

Our Role in the Case

Legal Momentum's amicus brief argued that the court did not have subject matter jurisdiction to accept the plea deal taken, and therefore urged the Court to grant the petition for writ of habeas corpus. 

Decision

On July 15, 1996, in an unprecedented decision, the Supreme Court of South Carolina ruled 3-2 that a viable fetus is a child for purposes of South Carolina's child abuse and child endangerment statute and that Whitner could be held criminally liable for actions taken during pregnancy that might harm a viable fetus. Legal Momentum joined an amicus brief in support of a petition for rehearing filed by the South Carolina Medical Association but the Supreme Court of South Carolina denied rehearing.