“The Court of Appeals erred in holding that evidence of a high level of cocaine in a child’s body alone is sufficient to prove that the child suffered ‘serious mental deficiency, impairment or injury,’ as required for conviction of injury to a child.”
Edwards was convicted of injury to a child by recklessly causing serious mental deficiency, impairment, or injury to her infant daughter L.B. by allowing her to ingest cocaine through breastfeeding. Tex. Penal Code § 22.04(a)(2). After L.B. was removed by CPS, Edwards admitted that she used cocaine. A sample of L.B.’s hair tested positive for cocaine and cocaine metabolites at a concentration estimated to be twice the maximum test value. Bruce Jeffries, a manager of a lab that performs drug testing, was shocked at the results. He said they were indicative of an addict who does cocaine all the time. Such usage, he said, would cause withdrawals, loss of appetite, and psychological effects, and possibly seizures, other brain disorders, and physical and mental developmental delays. A guardian described L.B. as “clingy” and “fussy,” and a doctor described L.B. as being small for her age, but testing did not show any developmental delays.
Edwards challenged the sufficiency of the evidence on appeal. The court of appeals affirmed. Acknowledging the lack of definition for “serious mental deficiency, impairment, or injury,” the court adopted a plain and ordinary meaning of those terms, as had the Tenth Court of Appeals when it upheld the phrase against a vagueness challenge. Ex parte Hammons, 628 S.W.3d 335 (Tex. App.—Waco 2021) (subsequently vacated and remanded for consideration of cognizability). Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, the court held a jury could have reasonably inferred L.B. had ingested an amount of cocaine sufficient to make her addicted, that she experienced withdrawal symptoms, and that withdrawal is a type of serious deficiency, impairment, or injury contemplated by the Penal Code.
Edwards argues that, even assuming the definition adopted by the court of appeals for “serious mental deficiency, impairment or injury” is correct, the State did not satisfy it. First, there was no evidence of any diagnosed deficits in mental functioning, mental illness, or condition. Second, there was no evidence L.B. experienced withdrawal, other than Jeffries’s assumption that it would occur. Moreover, not even Jeffries explained what kind of injury withdrawal would entail: physical or mental, serious or non-serious, short- or long-term.