ENID, Okla. — Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has reversed a district court ruling that had thrown out a charge against a woman accused of dumping her baby in a dumpster in April 2017.
The child neglect charge against Kathryn Juanita Green was quashed by Garfield County District Judge Dennis Hladik after a hearing on April 25, 2019, and prosecutors announced they would appeal. Green's attorneys had filed the motion to quash the charge "on the legal ground that a fetus was not a 'child' subject to protection under the child neglect statute," according to the Oklahoma Criminal Court of Appeals ruling.
"Green gave birth to a stillborn son sometime in the early spring of 2017," according to the ruling. "Police found the deceased infant, on April 9, 2017, inside a wooden box that had been placed in a construction dumpster outside Green's home. The medical examiner performed an autopsy on the deceased infant, who was in the early stages of generalized postmortem decomposition, and found no signs of traumatic injury. Toxicology screening revealed the presence of methamphetamine in the infant's system. The medical examiner opined the cause of death was methamphetamine toxicity, and the manner of death was homicide."
The lengthy appeals court ruling determined a fetus is entitled to protections against neglect.
"This case, however, does not involve a question of fact, but instead presents a question of law, namely whether an unborn fetus constitutes a 'child under eighteen (18) years of age' within the protection of the child neglect statute, and ultimately whether the State may prosecute Green for child neglect because of her alleged methamphetamine use during pregnancy," according to the court ruling.
Hladik's ruling found that statutes don't define the term child "explicitly to include the unborn ... ," according to the appeals court ruling.
"This statute defines a child as a person under the age of 18. It would have been easy for the the legislature to include in the definition additional terms such as conception, fetus or trimester if it had been their intent to apply this statute to the gestation period," Hladik's decision stated. "For this court to apply this statute to a fertilized egg, zygote, embryo, fetus or any of the months or trimesters of pregnancy would require it to legislate from the bench which is prohibited."
The appeals court determined, though, "A child several weeks away from birth, as was the fetus in this case, is every bit as vulnerable to and in need of protection from neglect and its potential harm as is a child one minute after birth."
The ruling further stated, "... to deny that protection to the unborn child in this case is to thwart the clear trajectory that Oklahoma law has been on for at least the past quarter century, which is to protect children, born and unborn, from potential harm because they cannot protect themselves."
A preliminary hearing in November 2018 determined Green would stand trial on six charges: two felony charges of child neglect, unlawful removal of a corpse, possession of a controlled substance, desecration of a corpse and a misdemeanor count of obstructing an officer next month.
Until the last day of the hearing, Green had been facing a second-degree murder charge, but Assistant District Attorney Sean Hill announced the state had filed an amended information, changing the second-degree murder charge to a count of child neglect.
"The state has filed an amended information. Specifically, because the medical science in this case cannot exclude the reasonable possibility another medical condition or anomaly may have contributed to the death of Baby Boy Green," Hill announced. "The state has amended count one from murder in the second degree to child neglect. The state is specifically alleging Ms. Green exposed Baby Boy Green to the use or possession of controlled dangerous substances and in doing so neglected and/or failed to protect Baby Boy Green."