Last month, Casey Allen’s lawyer asked the Ravalli County District Court to delay her felony trial because the 21-year-old was pregnant and wanted to go to drug treatment, according to a court transcript.
At the status hearing, Deputy Ravalli County Attorney Thorin Geist successfully argued against the delay, in part because a jury and witnesses already were summoned for trial.
One week later, Geist charged Allen with criminal endangerment – for putting her unborn child at risk because she had tested positive for illegal drugs one day earlier, according to the Montana Reproductive Rights Coalition. The coalition includes the ACLU of Montana, Blue Mountain Clinic, the Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, the Montana Human Rights Network, NARAL Pro-Choice Montana, and Planned Parenthood of Montana.
On Monday, the group condemned the charges as “infringements of Allen’s constitutional and human rights.”
Niki Zupanic, public policy director for the ACLU of Montana, said Allen’s situation represents “a really dangerous attack on women’s rights in the state of Montana.”
“We’re very concerned about Ms. Allen and the charges pending against her – unfairly pending against her,” Zupanic said. “And we’re very concerned about her having the prenatal care that she needs and wants. In addition, we also think that Mr. Geist has overstepped his bounds.”
Geist did not return a request for comment, but Ravalli County Attorney Bill Fulbright said Allen already has had “multiple opportunities to obtain drug treatment.” She not only failed to do so, he said, she used illegal drugs after she found out she was pregnant – and thus, faces new charges.
“It’s unfortunate this young lady’s case is being used as a headline grabber, when what we have is an individual who we have had on drug charges for quite some time now, in multiple cases,” Fulbright said.
At the status hearing in August, Geist argued that Allen was using her pregnancy as an excuse to put off the trial.
“Apparently, the only thing that’s happened here is the defendant now has found out that she’s pregnant and is, apparently, just attempting to delay the trial until the time when she arguably would appear physically more sympathetic to the jury,” Geist said in the transcript.
Defense attorney Alex Beal, though, argued Allen had wanted to go into treatment earlier, especially since she found out she was pregnant, but the medical approvals were taking longer than usual, according to the transcript. A chemical dependency evaluation recommended inpatient treatment.
“The main desire here is to make sure that a pregnant person is receiving drug treatment,” Beal told the court.
Ravalli County District Judge James Haynes, though, said Allen’s pregnancy was not the court’s responsibility. Plus, he said, the last-minute request for a continuance would interfere with the justice system. “I don’t know why I should have to scurry around, change my trial schedule.”
“We have this woman who has managed to impregnate herself, plus she’s got these criminal charges,” Haynes said. “Her decision to have a child in the middle of this is her decision. It’s not society’s responsibility to take up the cause.”
The coalition, though, decried the court’s denial – which prevented Allen’s attendance at the Montana Chemical Dependency Center in Butte – as well as the additional charges. For one thing, the coalition said, the court’s actions go against the recommendations of health care professionals, who want women to seek “invaluable prenatal and pregnancy-related care.”
“(They) universally say that drug-addicted women should be treated during pregnancy and not criminalized,” the groups said Monday in a written release to Montana media.
The coalition also described the additional charges against Allen as “a dangerous precedent that threaten the health and well-being of Montanans.”
“There is no legal basis for charging Allen with criminal endangerment,” said Maggie Moran, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Montana. “The prosecutor and judges in this case simply wanted to make a point that they think they know what is best for pregnant women, and think they have a right to control them.”
The ACLU noted that its recent report, “Reproductive Lockdown: An Examination of Montana Detention Centers and the Treatment of Pregnant Prisoners,” shows “a lack of adequate policies in Montana’s jails puts pregnant prisoners at risk of inferior medical care.”
In a phone call, County Attorney Fulbright said prosecutors have had charges pending against Allen for a year, and in three prior cases. At one point, he said, she had agreed to obtain treatment for methamphetamine use, but she never went, and the prosecution opposed the defense’s request to push back the court date.
“We opposed it because it was nothing more than a ploy to delay the trial. We’ve had charges pending against Ms. Allen since September 2013,” Fulbright said.
Allen is in custody, but Fulbright said he could not comment on whether the county was meeting her medical needs because it would be a breach of privacy. However, he said Ravalli County has a strong track record of meeting the health care needs of inmates, including those who are pregnant.
Fulbright also said that when a felon enters the Montana Department of Corrections system, the person has many “long-term treatment options” and supervision available to them. And he said Allen would be able to access those if she’s convicted.
“Sometimes, that long-term treatment is the only thing that can break that cycle,” Fulbright said.