MODESTO — A judge on Tuesday sentenced a 31-year-old Oakdale mother to nine years in prison for using methamphetamine while she was breast-feeding, which resulted in the death of her infant daughter.
In March, Nicole Leann Smith pleaded no contest to a felony, admitting that she was responsible in the death of Dahlia Smith.
The defendant was convicted of willful cruelty to a child with an enhancement for causing the death of her 44-day-old daughter.
On Dec. 11, the defendant's husband found the child unresponsive at their home on Obsidian Drive. The child had vomited, and the husband performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Authorities continued efforts to revive the baby, but Dahlia was pronounced dead at Oak Valley Hospital in Oakdale. Smith was arrested two months later.
Hans Hjertonsson, Smith's defense attorney, asked the judge to give his client a mitigated suspended sentence of six years in prison and release her on probation.
Hjertonsson argued that this case is a difficult and tragic one, but his client was simply "ignorant" to the harmful effects the drug would have on her child while breast-feeding.
"The one who is feeling the most responsible is Ms. Smith," Hjertonsson told the judge before sentencing.
The defendant since has admitted to probation officials that she used meth while breast-feeding.
Smith initially told investigators that someone must have laced her coffee at a public place and she unknowingly drank it. But Smith told investigators she stopped breast-feeding immediately after drinking the laced coffee, which indicates that she knew it could be harmful to her daughter, Deputy District Attorney Annette Rees argued.
"She lied to the officers, because she was continuing to use methamphetamine every day," Rees said in court.
The defense attorney argued that his client did not willfully take advantage of her child and that she has an insignificant prior criminal record and completed a court-appointed drug treatment program before her daughter's death.
Smith pleaded no contest within two months of her arrest, even though the prosecution did not offer a plea deal. Her lawyer said these are mitigating circumstances that should result in a lesser sentence.
According to records, the child's death was caused by aspiration of gastric contents in her body. Toxicology results indicated Dahlia suffered from meth intoxication over a long period.
The prosecutor told the judge that Smith avoided medical checkups for herself and her daughter because she continued to use meth, even after receiving drug treatment. She said Smith was using up to $20 worth of meth each day. "This child had no ability to defend herself," Rees argued.
Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Nancy Ashley said Smith had the nine months of her pregnancy to think about how her drug abuse could harm her child, so she refused to give Smith the mitigated sentence. Smith faced a maximum sentence of 12 years in prison.
Ashley has told Smith that she will have to serve three years on parole after she is released from prison. She could be sentenced to an additional year in prison if she violates her parole.