Back to All Court Cases

People v. Gilligan (Challenging the arrest and prosecution of alcohol-dependent pregnant women)

 This case involves the arrest and prosecution of pregnant alcohol-dependent women on charges of endangering the welfare of a minor. On Sept. 27, 2003, Stacey L. Gilligan, 22, gave birth to a baby boy who allegedly tested positive for alcohol. Several days later, Ms. Gilligan was arrested by Glens Falls police and was charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of a child. These counts allege that, in the process of giving birth, she “knowingly fed” alcohol to her baby via the umbilical cord.

The NYCLU and counsel from National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) represented the American Public Health Association, National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and National Coalition for Child Protection Reform as amici curiae in support of Gilligan’s motion to dismiss the charges against her. Amici argued that although the problems posed by alcohol and drug use are serious public health issues, the arrest and prosecution of pregnant alcohol-dependent women would endanger the public health and deter women from seeking health services beneficial to them and their future children.

In addition, amici argued that the prosecution runs counter to the plain language of the child endangering statute, to prior case law in New York, and to decisions in 21 other states rejecting judicial extensions of child abuse or drug laws to apply to pregnant women. Finally, amici argued that the prosecution violated Ms. Gilligan’s right to due process and right to carry a pregnancy to term. Following the initial filing of the amicus brief, the RRP assisted Ms. Gilligan’s defense attorney, Robert Kelly, in the preparation of numerous additional motions, arguing that the court should not consider the litany of confidential alcohol treatment records the prosecution attempted to introduce into evidence; that the court should in fact strike such medical information from the record entirely; and that, even if the court were to consider such evidence, as a matter of law a woman cannot be found guilty of child endangerment for drinking alcohol while pregnant.

During the proceedings, presiding City Court Justice David B. Krogmann was elevated to a position in the Supreme Court, Warren County. On consent of both parties, Justice Krogmann retained the case, thereby shifting jurisdiction to the Supreme Court, Warren County. On April 8, 2004, the Supreme Court, Warren County issued an opinion dismissing the charges against Ms. Gilligan. The Court ruled that the charges were “without legal basis” because New York’s child endangerment law does not apply to a pregnant woman’s actions in relation to her fetus. 

Glens Falls City Court, Warren County, Index No. 2003-1192, Supreme Court, Warren County, Index No. 5456 (amicus)

As bold as the spirit of New York, we are the NYCLU.
© 2024 New York
Civil Liberties Union