A woman convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to four years in prison after suffering a miscarriage has received public outcry for what some say is an injustice.
Brittney Poolaw, 20, was found guilty by a jury earlier this month after the Comanche County District Attorney’s Office in Oklahoma said her methamphetamine use was the cause of the loss of her fetus.
However, the cause of death from the DA differed from the medical examiner.
Poolaw was between 15 and 17 weeks pregnant when she suffered a miscarriage on January 4, 2020, according to the medical examiners report viewed by USA TODAY.
The report said the miscarriage could have happened due to genetic anomaly or placenta abruption.
They did note there was evidence of Poolaw using methamphetamine as it was found in the baby’s liver and brain, but the medical examiner did not assign a cause of death.
Tyler Box, a partner at the Overman Legal Group in Oklahoma City who was not a part of the case, told USA TODAY via email the state of Oklahoma recognizes misdemeanor manslaughter – still a felony despite the name – as when someone dies while in the commission of a misdemeanor.
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“The classic example is when someone commits a robbery and during that robbery someone dies. The defendant does not have to have the intent of murdering someone, they must simply have had the intent to carry out the underlying felony of robbery and the death must be the proximate cause of said robbery,” he said.
Box said according to the state, Poolaw committed the misdemeanor of possession and consuming methamphetamines and her unborn child passed away as a result of that possession and consumption.
“Here, Assistant District Attorney Galbraith believed that but for Ms. Poolaw’s methamphetamine consumption this unborn fetus would have been carried to term,” Box said. “The issue that jumps out to me initially is how the state was able to prove that it was in fact the meth usage that was the proximate cause of the death.”
Box said the possession of meth didn’t cause the death and there isn’t a law that makes it illegal to consume banned substances, which could ripen Poolaw’s appeal chances.
Lynn Paltrow, founder and executive director for the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, told USA TODAY the group got involved with Poolaw’s case before the trial when they it was going through data on people charged with crimes tied to their pregnancies.
NAPW takes on cases where if not for pregnancy, a person would not be arrested or subject to some state intervention.
They learned of about 57 cases in Oklahoma since 2006, including Poolaw’s, and began reaching out to her to offer her assistance once they learned she was going to trial.
Paltrow said Poolaw’s court appointed attorney mostly refused to take assistance.
“The prosecution for loss of a pregnancy are only permissible where the fetus was viable. At 17 weeks the fetus was not viable,” Paltrow said.
“We live in a time and a world where certain issues are like triggers. So if you say drug use and pregnancy, the automatic assumption is this is a case of bad drug use and pregnancy, but this is a case of someone who experienced a miscarriage.”
Why is there ZERO MEDIA COVERAGE of Brittney Poolaw’s conviction of manslaughter for having a miscarriage?!?
Could it be because she’s an Indigenous woman?
NAPW said it has identified a local criminal defense attorney, John Coyle, who filed paperwork to preserve Poolaw’s right to appeal the conviction.
Paltrow said the NAPW has not had much contact with her due to her being quarantined for COVID-19 protocols once she was transferred to prison.
“The sentence should stop here. She was convicted of manslaughter for having a miscarriage, period.” Paltrow said.
Follow reporter Asha Gilbert @Coastalasha. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.