World
Take a Valium, Lose Your Kid, Go to Jail
In Alabama, anti-drug fervour and abortion politics have turned a meth-lab law into the country's harshest weapon against pregnant women
 
Casey Shehi’s son James was born in August 2014, remarkably robust even though he was four weeks premature. But the maternity nurse at Gadsden Regional Medical Center seemed almost embarrassed, and as she took the baby from his exhausted mother’s arms, Shehi felt a prick of dread.
 
“She said they were going to have to take him back to the nursery to produce some urine, because I had a positive drug screen for benzodiazepines,” Shehi, 37, recalled one evening a few months ago at a café near her mother’s home. She hadn’t been sleeping well; her brown hair hung lank past her shoulders, and her eyes were rimmed with worry. “I said: ‘That can’t be true. Can you please check it again? Run the screen again.’ ”
 
The nurse asked: Did she have a prescription for any form of benzo — Xanax or Klonopin or Ativan? No, Shehi insisted, there must be a mistake.
Then she remembered: the Valium.
 
One night a few weeks earlier, Shehi and her ex-husband got into a huge argument on the phone. She was in the late stages of what had been a difficult pregnancy; she was achy and bloated, and her ankles felt like they might explode. After the fight, she called her mother, Ann Sharpe, a retired teacher and guidance counselor who lived nearby. “She was really upset — ‘I’m miserable, I’m sick, I can’t sleep,’ ” Sharpe recalled. “I said, ‘Do you have something you can take?’ ” As Shehi later told investigators, she had swallowed half of one of her boyfriend’s Valiums to calm herself down. 
 
Not long after, Shehi and her boyfriend and their various kids packed up the camper and drove 325 miles from Gadsden, in northeast Alabama, to the beach in Panama City, Florida, for one last vacation before the baby came. The weather was sweltering, the trailer — a grimy relic with an air conditioner that only worked when it wanted to — suffocating. Shehi was too keyed up to sleep, her 4-year-old son curled up beside her on the narrow bed. Finally, she reached for the other half of the tranquilizer.
 
As Shehi recounted the story, the maternity nurse told her, “Okay, okay.” 
 
By that night, everything really did seem all right. Excited nurses woke Shehi and handed her the baby, swaddled in a light blanket. “They told me: ‘He’s good, he’s clean. You can have him now, no worries.’ ” Exposure to too much benzodiazepine during pregnancy can sometimes cause newborns to be fussy or floppy-limbed. But occasional, small doses of diazepam (the generic name for Valium) are considered safe. According to the lab report, James had nothing in his system. Shehi said the pediatrician reassured her, “Everything’s cool.” 
 
The next day, Shehi and the baby went home, and someone from the Department of Human Resources, the state child welfare agency, paid a visit. In recent years, Alabama authorities have been aggressive about removing newborns from the custody of mothers who abuse drugs, typically placing a baby with a relative or foster family under a safety plan that can continue for months or years. The social worker listened to Shehi and Sharpe’s story and concluded that theirs wasn’t one of those situations. “She said: ‘I understand the pain you are in, and I understand what’s going on. I won’t take the baby away,’ ” Sharpe recalled. 
 
But one morning a few weeks later, when Shehi was back at her job in a nursing home and the baby was with a sitter, investigators from the Etowah County Sheriff’s Office showed up at the front desk with a warrant. She had been charged with “knowingly, recklessly, or intentionally” causing her baby to be exposed to controlled substances in the womb — a felony punishable in her case by up to 10 years in prison. The investigators led her to an unmarked car, handcuffed her and took her to jail. 
 
Shehi had run afoul of Alabama’s “chemical endangerment of a child” statute, the country’s toughest criminal law on prenatal drug use. Passed in 2006 as methamphetamine ravaged Alabama communities, the law targeted parents who turned their kitchens and garages into home-based drug labs, putting their children at peril.
 
Within months, prosecutors and courts began applying the law to women who exposed their embryo or fetus to… Continue Reading… 
 

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Is Cheque Bouncing a Crime?
Can one pin-point an evil mind in all cases of cheque bouncing?
 
There are two types of cases that come before our courts of justice. There are civil litigation cases and those that involve crimes. The trial courts are different for these two types of cases. Civil courts are presided over by judges. Criminal courts have magistrates deciding over crime matters. Of course, in smaller towns, the distinction gets blurred.
 
The civil courts usually decide on a matter of rights. Not right, but rights. Who owns what is usually the point of argument. The cases are fought by A against B. The one who moves the court is the plaintiff, because s/he has a complaint against the other, the defendant. There are some other terms one needs to know: complainant, opponent, intervenor, are a few. 
 
Matters involving a crime are different. In these, it is not a matter of settling rights but of punishing the perpetrator called the accused. The person filing a complaint, say, regarding a robbery, does so at a police station. If the complaint is genuine, the accused is prosecuted by the State. This means that the government machinery takes over the complaint. The complainant becomes no more than a witness.
 
Cases of crime are penal offences. They entail fines, imprisonment, or both. The punishments are laid out in the Indian Penal Code. The quantum of punishments decides the hierarchy of the courts and also the possibility of bail and the amount, in terms of money.
 
A major difference distinguishes the civil and criminal matters. It’s what is called ‘mens rea’. Mens rea means a wicked mind, prior knowledge of guilt. In criminal matters, intent, a ‘bad’ mind, is a deciding factor.
 
How does our discussion up to now fit in with Section 138 cases—those involving ‘bounced’ cheques? And who, amongst the management, should be held responsible?
 
A limited company has a board of directors. There may be 2, 5, 10 or more directors. Some of them may be appointed by financial institutions that fund the company’s activities. Some others may be from labour unions. And a few may be government appointees. The question that now arises is this. If a cheque issued by the company bounces, are all these directors liable?
 
You be the Judge.
 
Cheque bouncing, due to insufficient funds, is a serious offence and can lead to imprisonment. And when people can use the law, the tendency is to misuse it. If one cheque has bounced, the whole board of directors can be dragged to court. Directors, independent directors, appointees et al. Would you, or would you not, convict all the accused?
 
This is where mens rea comes in. While it is assumed that issuing a cheque without sufficient funds is indicative of a guilty mind, do all the directors have a mens rea? Even those at arm’s length?
 
Over the years, there has been a lot of debate on this issue. Thankfully, the law has crystallised. Only those directors handling day-to-day affairs and those signing cheques are to be held responsible. Those not in the know are deemed innocent, to start with. We believe it is an intelligent decision. However, lower courts, often, do not know of this settled view and continue to drag other directors to court.
 
This author has, however, often questioned the concept of mens rea in genuine cases of businesses going haywire. A post-dated cheque, given with full confidence, may later bounce. Can one pinpoint an evil mind in this case? 
 
(Bapoo Malcolm is a practising lawyer in Mumbai. Please email your comments to mail@moneylife.in)

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COMMENTS

R S Murthy

1 year ago

The provision is very clear that a cheque issued in repayment of a debt if bounced attracts criminal proceedings but not all cheques. Acheque given as a gift or donation if bounced do not attract any criminal action.Issuance of a post dated cheque for repayment of debt and not arranging funds to honour the same can not be said negligence but certainly mensrea. Companies with so many directors from different walks of life is not a valid reason when such companies do not have sound financial management.

Ravindra

1 year ago

It is very stupid to hold the topmost authority responsible for anything going wrong in his Company, Depatrment, Ministry etc. It only results in waste of time and loosing good people. Many years back Madhavrao Scindia resigned as Railway Minister because of some railway accident. He was a very capable person and had led Railways towards computerisation (twenty or so years back). Result. You get Laloo Prasad Yadav. The task of the person at the top is to look into the matter personally, if required take help of other departments, Police, CBI etc to find out the person DIRECTLY responsible and punish him. Otherwise we will loos good people for the stupidity of the bad People.

Nifty, Sensex headed higher subject to dips - Wednesday closing report
Nifty has to close above 7,900 for the upmove to continue
 
We had mentioned in Tuesday’s closing report that Nifty, Sensex may be headed lower for the next few days and that Nifty looks set for a fresh decline unless it closes above 7,900. Nifty went down sharply in the morning but attractive valuations and bargain hunting pushed the Indian stock market indices a little higher by close.
 
 
The Indian stock markets again came under pressure during the initial trade on Wednesday, as weak Asian cues emanating out of a below-expected Chinese PMI (purchasing managers' index) data spooked investors. However, attractive valuations in banking, consumer durables and information technology (IT) sectors helped the markets pare its initial losses. Furthermore, value buying was observed among investors in the stock market. Market observers pointed out that the sharp downward corrections on Tuesday due to weak European cues have cheapened stocks and prompted value buying.
 
All interest-sensitive stocks like banking, automobile and capital goods made substantial gains on hopes of a rate cut by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) during its upcoming monetary policy review slated for September 29.
 
Sector-wise, banking, consumer durables, healthcare, oil and gas and information technology (IT) stocks supported the market recovery.
 
Notwithstanding the positive trend, power and technology, entertainment and media (TECK) sector came under intense selling pressure. 
 
The S&P BSE banking index rose by 283.82 points, consumer durables index gained by 172.48 points, healthcare index increased by 121.55 points, oil and gas index rose by 86.18 points, and IT index was higher by 40.29 points.
 
The S&P BSE power index fell by 5.59 points and TECK index slipped by 1.67 points.
 
Major Sensex gainers during Wednesday's trade were: Lupin, up 2.83% at Rs.1,921.30; Vedanta, up 2.71% at Rs.94.85; HDFC Bank, up 2.17% at Rs.1,049.95; Mahindra and Mahindra (M&M), up 2.10% at Rs.1,211.75; and ITC, up 1.28% at Rs.316.05.
 
The major Sensex losers were: Tata Motors, down 1.73% at Rs.310.20; Bharti Airtel, down 1.49% at Rs.338.10; BHEL, down 1.24% at Rs.199.15; GAIL, down 0.86% at Rs.287.25; and Bajaj Auto, down 0.79% at Rs.2,240.25.
 
The top gainers and top losers among major indices in the Indian stock market are given in the table below:
 
 
The closing values of the major Asian indices are given in the table below:
 
 

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