The state presented sufficient evidence that defendant took many drugs, including morphine, and breastfed the 46-day-old victim, Alexis. The state also presented ample evidence that would permit the jury to logically and reasonably conclude that defendant’s morphine consumption while breastfeeding placed “the child at unreasonable risk of harm, S.C. Code Ann. § 63-5-70(A)(1), and constituted “an act or omission by any person which causes harm to the child’s physical health or welfare” resulting in the child’s death. S.C. Code Ann. § 16-3-85.
We affirm defendant’s convictions for homicide by child abuse and unlawful conduct toward a child. We vacate defendant’s conviction for involuntary manslaughter.
The state presented evidence that defendant continuously ingested substantial doses of morphine and other drugs while pregnant and breastfeeding; that morphine and other drugs can and do pass from a nursing mother to a breastfeeding child through breast milk; that infants cannot metabolize morphine and other drugs effectively; that Alexis exhibited symptoms consistent with morphine toxicity; and that Alexis’ death was caused by respiratory failure secondary to synergistic drug intoxication.
When reviewing the denial of a directed verdict motion, we view the evidence in a light most favorable to the state. When examined through the proper lens, the state presented ample evidence that would permit the jury to logically and reasonably conclude that defendant’s morphine consumption while breastfeeding “place[d] the child at unreasonable risk of harm,” § 63-5-70(A)(1), and constituted “an act or omission by any person which causes harm to the child’s physical health or welfare” resulting in the child’s death, S.C. Code Ann. § 16-3-85.
Defendant, a former nurse, sought pain medications from different doctors, concealed her pregnancy from the doctors who prescribed her pain medication and concealed her pain medication use from her obstetricians.
After Alexis was born, defendant returned to Dr. Kovacs, who prescribed her morphine, and told Dr. Kovacs that she had missed appointments because she had been so depressed she couldn’t leave the house. Defendant’s pregnancy and Alexis’ birth were never mentioned. Defendant received additional morphine and continued to breastfeed Alexis.
Defendant did not admit her morphine addiction until after the autopsy and toxicology reports were finalized.
Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the state, the jury could conclude that defendant acted with extreme indifference in taking the morphine and breastfeeding her child, resulting in Alexis’ death.
We find nothing in South Carolina’s homicide statutes or law that reflects a legislative intent to deviate from the overwhelmingly prevailing view that the homicide of one person by one defendant is limited to one homicide punishment – one homicide, one homicide punishment. Multiple offenses, including multiple homicide offenses, may be prosecuted in a single trial, but principles inherent in double jeopardy and due process preclude multiple punishments for the same offense.
Here, the jury could have accepted defendant’s view of the evidence and found her not guilty of homicide by child abuse. That is, the jury could have concluded the state failed to prove defendant “committed a deliberate or intentional act under circumstances revealing an extreme indifference to human life.” In that scenario, the jury may have nevertheless found defendant guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
But the jury’s guilty verdict on Count One in the indictment – homicide by child abuse – precluded a guilty verdict on the charged offense of involuntary manslaughter in Count Two. Thus, under these circumstances, a conviction and sentence for each homicide charge cannot stand.
We overrule State v. Easler, 327 S.C. 121, 489 S.E.2d 617 (1997), to the extent it authorizes multiple homicide punishments involving only one homicide.
Affirmed in part, vacated in part.
(Few, J.) Since the state’s expert witnesses refused to say the morphine that killed Alexis came from defendant’s breast milk, or even whether that was possible, the state failed to present sufficient evidence of causation.
State v. Greene (Lawyers Weekly No. 010-052-18, 30 pp.) (John Kittredge, J.) (John Few, J., dissenting) Appealed from Spartanburg County Circuit Court (J. Derham Cole, J.) C. Rauch Wise for Appellant; Alan Wilson, David Spencer and Barry Barnette for Respondent. S.C. S. Ct.