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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 12:22 p.m., Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Meth mother's conviction overturned

By Ken Kobayashi
Advertiser Courts Writer

The Hawai'i Supreme Court this morning reversed the manslaughter conviction for a 32-year-old woman whose use of crystal methamphetamine during her final days of pregnancy in 2001 led to the death of her two-day-old son.

In a 38-page opinion, the court ruled that state law does not permit the prosecution of a mother's prenatal conduct that causes the death of her baby.

The prosecution was the first of its kind in Hawai'i and lawyers believed the court would be the only one in the country to uphold that type of conviction.

The justices held that an "overwhelming majority" of other courts have rejected that type of prosecution, ruling that the mother's conduct would have to be directed at a child who has been born and is alive.

The decision erases the criminal conviction of Tayshea Aiwohi who did not contest the charge after Circuit Judge Michael Town refused to dismiss the prosecution. Town placed Aiwohi on 10 years' probation. As a result of the ruling, the probation will be lifted.

Associate Justice Paula Nakayama wrote the opinion signed by Chief Justice Ronald Moon and two other justices. Associate Justice Simeon Acoba filed a separate opinion, agreeing with the reversal, but for different reasons.

The case drew nationwide concern from drug treatment and public health advocates. A coalition of those groups filed a brief urging the court to reject the prosecution. The coalition contended the prosecution of a mother's conduct while pregnant would hamper drug treatment and prenatal care.