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Murder Charges Brought Over Miscarriages & Stillbirths

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One prosecutor’s choice to charge women with murder after their pregnancies end in stillbirths has sent a panic around the country due to the precedent it could set for civil and reproductive rights, as well as the potential to criminalize the choices that pregnant women make. Specifically, the current prosecution of criminal defendant Chelsea Becker, who delivered a stillborn baby–according to the local police department and coroner–due to her participation in a drug crime (specifically, due to toxic levels of methamphetamines allegedly found in the fetus’ system; a contention that a number of medical experts argue lacks scientific basis) has gained national headlines, and even the interjection of the state attorney general, who has filed an amicus brief in support of the defendant, arguing that the Superior Court’s interpretation of the state’s fetal homicide law would subject all women who suffer a pregnancy loss to the threat of criminal investigation and potential prosecution for murder. The case next goes to the Fifth District Court of Appeal, where the defendant, Becker, will argue, alongside the state attorney general, that the state is dangerously misapplying the state penal code and relying on the unfounded supposition that methamphetamine use causes stillbirths.

While a number of civil and reproductive rights advocates have expressed concerns that these prosecutions are an attack against reproductive rights and abortion, the prosecutor behind a number of these cases insists that the issue is, instead, about whether the state penal code “exempts pregnant women from criminal liability when they engage in specific acts that result in the death of a viable fetus.” However, this interpretation is not in keeping with the intent behind passing the state fetal homicide laws, which were born out of an inability to prosecute third parties who inflicted harm against pregnant women that resulted in the death of a fetus because, decades ago, the penal code failed to refer to fetuses as potential homicide victims. As a result, a majority of states–including North Carolina–passed fetal homicide laws.

The Law in North Carolina & Prosecutors Misapplying Fetal Homicide Laws

North Carolina’s law dictates that a person who unlawfully causes the death of an unborn child is guilty of murder if they do any one of the following:

  • Cause the death of the unborn child in perpetration or attempted perpetration of any criminal offenses set forth under the law
  • Commit an act causing the death of the unborn child “that is inherently dangerous to human life and is done so recklessly and wantonly that it reflects disregard of life”
  • Willfully and maliciously commits an act with the intent to cause the death of the unborn child

However, the law explicitly states that “northing shall be construed to permit the prosecution of acts committed by a pregnant woman with respect to her own unborn child, including but not limited to those which result in miscarriage or stillbirth.” Still, many are concerned that the outcome of this current case could change everything, resulting in women becoming too afraid to seek counseling for substance abuse or healthcare, or even murder charges for women who suffer a miscarriage or stillbirth in conjunction with DWI charges, or after a car accident for failing to wear a seatbelt, with prosecutors making whatever arguments are necessary to get around exemptions like these. In recent years, feticide, manslaughter, and/or murder charges have been brought against women around the country, and have included one woman who was charged under these laws after suffering a stillbirth due to being shot in the stomach by someone else, as well as another charged with murder (by the same prosecutor now charging Becker) after a stillbirth following methamphetamine use who plead guilty and is now serving 11 years in prison.

If You Are Facing Criminal Charges in North Carolina, Contact Experience Defense Lawyer Rashad Hauter

If you are facing criminal charges in North Carolina, you need to speak with a criminal defense attorney right away. North Carolina criminal attorney Rashad Hauter is a former District Attorney, which provides him with distinct advantages in knowing what the opposition will do. Contact our office today to find out more.

Resources:

nytimes.com/interactive/2018/12/28/opinion/abortion-murder-charge.html

fresnobee.com/news/local/crime/article192839919.html

nytimes.com/2019/06/27/us/pregnant-woman-shot-marshae-jones.html

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

https://www.hauterlaw.com/wrongful-convictions-who-they-affect-legal-roadblocks-thwarting-new-evidence/

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