A New Jersey judge was scolded by his peers for ruling that an Essex County mom was guilty of child abuse and neglect because she occasionally smoked marijuana.
On Thursday the Essex County mother was cleared of her charges almost three years after the birth of her son, who was born with some marijuana in his system because the mom smoked occasionally during her pregnancy to help with her appetite and anxiety.
After giving birth, the hospital notified Child Protection. As a result of the report, the agency was supervising her parenting of the children and required that she attend drug counseling.
A two-judge appellate panel said on Thursday that the Family Court judge, who remained unnamed, had taken matters too far by assuming that the mother must have been “stoned all the time” based on the fact that she admitted to continuing to smoke after the baby was born.
According to the appellate decision, the judge “inappropriately filled in the gaps with speculation.”
A state case worker visited the home three times a week for a year, but never found any evidence that the children had been neglected or that the mother was under the influence while she was parenting her children. The state also had no evidence that the children had been harmed.
The family court judge ruled in 2014 that the mother was abusive because she delayed attending the drug program. This was due to the mother not being able to find child care. The appellate decision, however, noted that state courts have held that “failure to successfully defeat drug addiction does not automatically equate to child abuse or neglect.”
The mother had successfully completed the drug program in 2015, a year before the Family Court judge upheld the abuse and neglect findings, stating that “long term use of marijuana does create a risk, a substantial risk.”
The appellate judges reversed those findings on Thursday and ordered that the mother’s name be removed from the state’s registry of abusive parents.
If you or someone you love is suspected of child abuse or neglect, contact Orange County criminal lawyer Staycie R. Sena at (949)477-8088 for a consultation now.