Mother who allegedly did drugs while pregnant charged with murder of newborn twins

This Tennessee case is the latest controversial one that involved a new mom.

July 25, 2019, 5:25 PM

A mother who is alleged to have tested positive for drugs at multiple points during her pregnancy is now facing criminal charges, including murder, in connection to the deaths of her newborn twins, local media reported.

Tennessee authorities have charged the mother, Tiffany Marie Roberts, with murder, aggravated child abuse or neglect, and a charge related to the victim being a viable fetus, according to court documents. The twins were born premature at 23 weeks and died two days later, on Tuesday, The Tennessean newspaper says.

The Chattanooga Police Department would not release the police report to ABC News, saying that the investigation is ongoing.

It is the latest case of prosecutors bringing criminal charges against pregnant women or new mothers, prompting outcry from women's rights groups.

In Roberts' case, The Tennessean newspaper cites an affidavit saying the twins were born with drugs in their system and that Roberts, 29, tested positive for ecstasy on the day she gave birth.

Court records confirm that Roberts is facing three charges that were filed on Tuesday July 23.

She is being held in the county jail on bond and it remains unknown if she has legal representation, and she has a court appearance scheduled for July 29.

PHOTO: Tiffany Marie Roberts in a police booking photo.
Tiffany Marie Roberts in a police booking photo.
Hamilton County Jail

The Tennessean reports that Roberts had tested positive for various drugs during doctors’ visits during her pregnancy, including cocaine, oxycodone, roxicodone, methamphetamine and benzodiazepine.

Officials at TC Thompson Children’s Hospital called for a death investigation on Tuesday, The Tennessean reported citing an arrest affidavit.

Lynn Paltrow, the executive director who founded the group National Advocates for Pregnant Women, said that prosecutors in Tennessee have a history of trying to criminalize behavior while pregnant, citing a Fetal Assault law that the state had in place from 2014 to 2016 but has since been revoked.

Paltrow said that the state "has used its legislative authority to experiment with arrests of pregnant women as a mechanism for promoting child health but that experiment utterly failed.”

While Tennessee has clearly had some debate over the legality and morality of criminally charging pregnant and new moms in recent years, they aren’t alone.

"Unfortunately Tennessee is not unique in bringing this kind of charge based on the outcome of her pregnancy. Women in other states have been charged with a variety of crimes,” Paltrow said.

One recent case that gained headlines was that of Marshae Jones when she faced manslaughter charges after being shot in the stomach while pregnant, causing her to lose the child. Prosecutors later decided to drop the charges.

In 2018, a woman named Samantha Jones was initially charged with the murder of her young child after an autopsy revealed that it died as a result of drugs in its mother’s breastmilk.

Jones’ attorney, Louis Busico, told ABC News that Jones was "facing the rest of her life in jail” based on the initial charges, but "we were able to work the case out with the murder charges and the felonies being dismissed and she entered a plea of a misdemeanor of involuntary manslaughter and placed on probation.”

Busico, who is not involved in the Roberts case, stressed the importance of the autopsy results of the babies in order to determine cause of death.

"You need to explain how mom is legally responsible for putting the controlled substances into those little infants,” he said.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to more accurately reflect Tennessee law.

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