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Murder Charges Over Stillbirth Raise Concerns Everywhere

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A current prosecution in the state of California could set a dangerous precedent around the country in terms of criminalizing choices women make while pregnant, including here in Florida, where there is also a state law on fetal homicide. The case involves a defendant, Chelsea Becker, who is being charged with murder after her pregnancy ended in stillbirth because she allegedly used methamphetamines during her pregnancy. Becker’s case next goes to the Fifth District Court of Appeal, where a writ of habeas corpus has been submitted. In it, the defendant has argued for her release and refuted claims that the stillbirth was caused by methamphetamine use, arguing that this conclusion, which was reached by the local police department referring to the coroner’s conclusions, lacks scientific basis.

History of Prosecuting Women for This “Crime”: State Attorney General Expresses Concerns

The district attorney pursuing the case has indicated that it does not involve political questions concerning abortion, but rather those concerning whether the state Penal Code, which defines murder as “the unlawful killing of a human being or a fetus with malice aforethought,” exempts pregnant women from criminal liability when specific acts result in the death of a viable fetus.

Becker is not the first to be prosecuted by this same attorney: Onewoman who was charged with murder in 2018 plead guilty to manslaughter and is now serving 11 years in prison. However, Becker’s case has drawn concerns from the California attorney general, who has written and submitted an amicus brief in support of the defendant, arguing that the court’s interpretation of the state law would subject all women who suffer a pregnancy loss to the threat of criminal investigation and possible prosecution for murder.

Fetal Homicide Laws Were Passed To Punish Third Parties Who Bring About The Death Of The Unborn

Examining the reasoning behind state laws on fetal homicide reveals that recent charges of feticide, manslaughter, or murder brought against women in a number of states by district attorneys relying on them are not in keeping with the legislative intent behind these laws. Many of them were passed after domestic violence or other violent acts by third parties resulted in miscarriage or stillbirth and the law could not prosecute the perpetrator because the Penal Code did not refer to fetuses as potential victims of homicide. In fact, some amendments have not only outlined exceptions to what can be considered homicide, specifically excluding anything that was consented to by the mother of the fetus, but in addition, some courts have declared the “sole intent” of these amendments was to punish as murder a third party’s willful assault on a pregnant woman when it results in the death of her fetus.

The Law in Florida

While Florida’s fetal homicide law dictates that anyone who commits a criminal offense and in the process causes bodily injury or death to an unborn child commits a separate offense “if the provision or statute does not otherwise specifically provide a separate offense for such death or injury to an unborn child,” in 1997, the Florida Supreme Court held that a pregnant woman cannot prosecuted for taking action to harm or kill her fetus. That being said, the current Court has made a point of reversing prior precedent, indicating that it could go in a different direction, depending upon the prosecutor and the case.

Case Could Result In Devastating Outcome, Including Criminal Prosecutions For Accident-Related Stillbirths

There is no question that the outcome of this particular case will extend beyond this particular county and state and, depending upon the outcome, could result in pregnant women becoming afraid to seek counseling for substance abuse and healthcare around the country. In fact, some have even gone so far as to hypothesize that the prosecutor’s interpretation could allow for women to be criminally prosecuted for stillbirths that result from a number of incidents, such as accidents where a pregnant woman loses her baby because she wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, for example.

Contact The Most Renowned Defense Attorney in Florida

If you have any questions or concerns about criminal prosecutions in conjunction with fetal homicide laws or other crimes in Florida, contact The Baez Law Firm to speak with our skilled Orlando criminal defense attorneys.

 

Resource:

baltimoresun.com/news/bs-xpm-1997-10-31-1997304026-story.html

nytimes.com/2020/08/11/us/chelsea-becker-california-stillbirth.html

https://www.baezlawfirm.com/florida-senate-moves-to-block-initiative-to-decriminalize-recreational-marijuana-before-florida-supreme-court/

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