Alabama Mom’s Charges Are Dropped, But Only After an Arduous Battle

Sixteen months after her arrest, Katie Darovitz 2014 one of at least 500 women prosecuted under Alabama's toughest-in-the-nation chemical endangerment law 2014 has had her case dismissed.


Darovitz's story, first chronicled by ProPublica last year, was especially wrenching: She has severe epilepsy, and doctors told her that the medications she was using to treat her condition carry a risk of miscarriage and birth defects.


When she got pregnant in 2014, she discovered marijuana could control her seizures and had not been associated with birth defects. But when she gave birth, hospital staffers turned over her positive marijuana screen to a social worker who turned it over to law enforcement officials. Two police officers showed up at the house Darovitz shared with her common-law husband and their two-week-old son, handcuffed her, and hauled her off to jail. Though her son, Will, was in good health, Darovitz was charged with a Class C felony 2014 punishable by up to 10 years in prison.


Darovitz's mother-in-law, Debi Word, said the dismissal came as a relief. But it was a long, grueling process that required a battery of national advocacy groups, pro-bono lawyers, a GoFundMe campaign, and every penny and moment that Darovitz's family could spare. Among the casualties: Word's marriage and Darovitz's Social Security disability payments 2014 her only source of income. "What we have gone through has been just horrible," Word said.


As ProPublica and reported last year, Alabama's chemical endangerment law makes it a felony to "knowingly, recklessly, or intentionally" cause a child to be exposed to controlled substances and drug-making chemicals. The statute carries sentences up to 10 years in prison if a child is unharmed and up to 99 years if a child dies.


The 2006 statute was initially aimed at parents who exposed children to dangerous methamphetamine labs, then was reinterpreted by prosecutors and courts to target women who used drugs during pregnancy. That tangled history, combined with a lack of law-enforcement guidelines, have led to wide disparities in how the law is used and troubling instances of overreach and abuse.


The Alabama legislature amended the law this spring to address one of its biggest problems: vague language that allowed women to be prosecuted even when they used controlled substances, such as opiate painkillers or methadone, that were legally prescribed by their doctors. Under the amendment signed by Gov. Robert Bentley last month, such women are now exempt from punishment.


Prosecutors have defended other aspects of the law, saying it's an important tool in dealing with rampant addiction 2014 and sometimes the only way to force women into treatment. According to the ProPublica/ investigation, the vast majority of chemical endangerment cases are resolved by women agreeing to go into diversion programs or to drug court, although women who fail those programs often go to jail.


Darovitz's case shows the toll such cases can take on families, even if women manage to avoid incarceration. "The power of the state is amazing to see," said Jose Guzman, a lawyer in Columbus, Georgia, who negotiated the dismissal. "The state can really wreck your life."


Though Darovitz's case is unusual in some of its details, in other ways it is typical of the cases ProPublica and examined. Like Darovitz, 20 percent of mothers charged with chemical endangerment used marijuana only; like Darovitz, about a quarter had no prior criminal record. And like Darovitz, many of the mothers were turned over by hospitals, which sometimes conducted drug tests without mothers' knowledge or consent.


In Russell County in eastern Alabama, where Darovitz and her family live a few miles from the Georgia border, at least 19 mothers have been charged with chemical endangerment of an unborn child since 2006. It's not unusual for a chemical endangerment defendant in the county to face a $2,500 fine on top of all the other fees.


That's what Word's family was hoping to avoid when Darovitz was arrested. Leery of public defenders who they feared might not put much effort into the case, they originally hired a Birmingham lawyer who charged them a $2,000 retainer. But the case stalled; eventually Word and her family found Guzman through the medical marijuana advocacy group Patients Out of Time.


By then Darovitz, who cannot work, had lost her Medicare and Social Security disability payments for unrelated reasons, Word said. With no health insurance or income, she couldn't afford the $300 monthly bill for her epilepsy medication, so she again controlled her seizures with medical marijuana 2014 which has complicated the process of getting her benefits reinstated. "Because she used marijuana, they say she was just a drug user," Word said. "To them, it looks like she's being noncompliant."


The costs piled up, eventually exceeding $6,000, Word said. Just getting Darovitz's medical records from the hospital cost $150 2014 and it wasn't until this past spring, after Guzman was hired, that they found a toxicology report stating that the drug tests were unconfirmed and could not be used in court. According to Guzman, there is no record that officials at East Alabama Medical Center, where Darovitz gave birth, or prosecutors ever conducted a second test to confirm the results.


A spokesman for the hospital did not return a phone call or email.


Ultimately, Guzman was able to negotiate a deal with the Russell County District Attorney's office, which agreed to drop the charges if Darovitz signed a letter saying she intended to move to a state, such as Georgia, where medical marijuana is legal and if she agreed not to sue the county. (There is no deadline by which Darovitz would have to move, and Alabama's governor recently signed a bill decriminalizing medical marijuana oil.)


"Negotiating a non suit agreement is common practice," Russell County District Attorney Ken Davis said in an email. "We didn't require the defendant to move anywhere," he added, but he acknowledged, 2018[T] he fact that she was moving to a state where [she] might get a prescription not available in Alabama was a factor in the decision to dismiss the pending charge."


The dismissal order was filed in April. "We've been living in peace," Word said.


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Nifty, Sensex may shed some gains – Weekly closing report
We had mentioned in the last week’s closing report that Nifty, Sensex might head higher subject to dips. The major indices of the Indian stock markets were range-bound. On Friday, at the end of the week’s trading, the gains for the whole week were less than 1% for the major indices. The trends of the major indices in the course of the week’s trading are given in the table below:
Short covering, along with expectations of healthy quarterly results and stable crude oil prices, pushed the Indian equity markets marginally higher on Monday. The key indices oscillated in a narrow range following three days of sharp up-move and made marginal gains during the mid-afternoon trade session. Buying was witnessed in automobile, metals, and information technology (IT) stocks. However, gains were capped due to weak rupee and hawkish comments from the US Federal Reserve on a possible June rate hike. The US Fed Chairperson Janet Yellen last Friday hinted towards a possible June rate hike. A hike in the US interest rates is expected to lead away Foreign Portfolio Investors (FPIs) from emerging markets such as India. In addition, caution prevailed ahead of the upcoming release of the major macro-economic data like the fourth quarter GDP (gross domestic product), eight core industries (ECI) and the PMI (purchasing manager’s index).
Profit booking, coupled with caution ahead of release of key macro-economic data, depressed the Indian equity markets on Tuesday. Consequently, the key indices provisionally closed the day's trade flat -- marginally in the red. Selling pressure was witnessed in healthcare, IT (information technology) and capital goods stocks. The BSE market breadth was skewed in favour of the bears - with 1,564 declines and 1,001 advances. The key indices on Monday had closed at their highest levels since October 2015. Initially on Tuesday, the key indices opened on a higher note, in-sync with their Asian peers. The equity markets soon ceded their initial gains on the back of profit booking after five consecutive sessions of rise.
The Krishi Kalyan Cess of 0.5% on services imposed by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley came into force from Wednesday through which the government has proposed to collect Rs5,000 crore during the remaining 10 months of the current fiscal. The government policies have been aimed at improving the rural sector.
Initially on Wednesday, the key indices opened on a higher note, following the release of healthy domestic macro-economic data. Major domestic macro-economic data points like the fourth quarter GDP (gross domestic product), fiscal deficit and eight core industries (ECI) were released on Tuesday. The GDP data showed that the Indian economy expanded by 7.6% in 2015-16 to log the fastest growth among larger countries. Besides, India's core industrial output data, ECI edged up by 8.5% in April on the back of higher production of electricity, steel and refinery products.
Despite the positive opening on Wednesday, the key indices ceded some of their initial gains on the back of sluggish Asian markets and lower close of the US stocks on Tuesday. The US indices had closed lower on the back of disappointing consumer confidence data which stroked growth concerns in the world's largest economy. The US data also cast a doubt over the US economy's ability to withstand a speculated interest rate hike in June. In addition, lower crude oil prices, a weak rupee and profit booking dented investors' risk taking appetite. However, lower level value buying supported prices. Among the major indices, the Bank Nifty lost 1.12% over Tuesday’s close to close at 17,423.45.
Short covering, coupled with lower-level value buying, lifted the Indian equity markets on Thursday. The key indices traded in the positive territory during the late-afternoon session, as healthy buying was witnessed in metal, banking and capital goods stocks. The key indices on Wednesday had closed flat -- marginally in the green -- led by healthy macro-economic data. Initially on Thursday, the key indices opened on a weak note, in sync with their Asian peers and a lower close of the US stock on Wednesday. Asian stocks receded as investors were disappointed at the lack of further stimulus measures in Japan. Besides, the European stocks traded flat as caution prevailed ahead of the upcoming ECB (European Central Bank) meet, also later Thursday. In addition, a week rupee depressed the equity markets. However, a late afternoon bout of short covering supported prices. The recently released healthy domestic macro-economic data also aided the equity markets to pare some of their earlier losses. Overall, the markets were bullish on Thursday. The key Indian indices had closed at a fresh seven-month closing-high on Thursday. 
The Indian equity markets closed flat on Friday owing to mixed global cues. Both the key indices closed the day's trade on a flat note. Healthy buying was witnessed in banking and automobile stocks, whereas scrip of consumer durables, capital goods and healthcare came under heavy selling pressure. The BSE market breadth was skewed in favour of the bears -- with 1,522 declines and 1,097 advances.
Growth in India's private sector output declined in May as manufacturing and service sectors lost momentum in conditions of softer domestic demand, while services slowed sharply to a six-month low, a business survey on performance of the services sector showed on Friday. The Nikkei Services Purchasing Managers' Index for India fell from 53.7 in April to 51.0 in May. An index reading of above 50 indicates an overall increase, while below 50 an overall decrease. The PMI series of data are published by the leading global diversified provider of financial information services "Markit". 
The Reserve Bank of India is due to announce its second bi-monthly monetary policy review of the fiscal coming Tuesday in the backdrop of official data showing retail inflation in the country rose in April to 5.39%. 


HDFC ERGO to acquire L&T General Insurance
The Board of Directors of HDFC ERGO General Insurance Company Limited in its meeting held on 3rd June 2016, approved the purchase of 100% stake in L&T General Insurance Company Limited subject to IRDAI (Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India) and other regulatory approvals, according to a release from HDFC ERGO. The Board also approved the plan to merge the two companies subject to all regulatory approvals. 
"Considering the importance of scale in the insurance business, consolidation within the insurance industry is inevitable. This transaction marks the beginning of this consolidation phase. The acquisition will help HDFC ERGO to further strengthen its presence in the market. The combined size  and  expertise  will  result  in improved  cost  efficiencies  in  the  merged  entity  and  benefit  policy holders and other stakeholders," said Deepak Parekh, chairman  of  HDFC  Ltd  and HDFC ERGO  General Insurance.
For  the  all-cash deal structured  by Arpwood Capital Pvt Ltd., exclusive  financial advisors  to  HDFC ERGO, the transaction has been valued at Rs551 crore. The acquisition would help HDFC ERGO improve its market position. HDFC ERGO expects significant cost synergies arising out of business, technology optimisation and rationalisation of offices. 


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