California drug user charged with murder after delivering stillborn baby, gets 11 years in prison

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OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta continued his support today of Adora Perez’s legal efforts to undo an 11-year prison term and criminal conviction against her for a stillbirth. Today, the Attorney General filed an Answer in support of Ms. Perez’s petition for review by the California Supreme Court, as well as a motion to file an amicus brief in support of her habeas petition in Kings County Superior Court. In both filings, Attorney General Bonta expressed his agreement with Ms. Perez that a pregnant woman cannot be prosecuted or convicted under California’s statutes for murder of an unborn fetus based on the outcome of her pregnancy. 

Today’s filings come one month after a Kings County Superior Court judge dismissed the case against Chelsea Becker, another Kings County woman who was charged with murder after suffering a stillbirth.  

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“Adora Perez has experienced trauma no person who has been pregnant should experience. It is impossible to imagine what it was like to be charged with murder and convicted of a crime after losing a pregnancy, and yet we know Ms. Perez is one of two women in Kings County who have been put through this,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Imprisoning a woman for the death of her unborn child is not justice, and it is not in line with the law. We will continue to stand with Ms. Perez and provide our support until real justice is served.”

In December 2017, Ms. Perez suffered a stillbirth at a hospital in Kings County. Shortly after, she was charged by the District Attorney with murder under California Penal Code section 187, allegedly for causing the death of a fetus through drug use. As a result of the enormous potential penalty from the murder charge, Ms. Perez pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 11 years in prison. The Attorney General argues that the text of section 187 and evidence of the intent of the Legislature confirm that California’s laws do not criminalize a woman’s own actions that might result in a miscarriage or stillbirth.

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In today’s California Supreme Court filing, Attorney General Bonta argued that construing Penal Code section 187 to criminalize the actions or inactions of pregnant women could have broader, dangerous repercussions, including:

  • Deterring women with addiction disorders, who may now fear criminal liability and imprisonment, from seeking necessary, and sometimes lifesaving, healthcare;
  • Encouraging unnecessary law enforcement scrutiny of miscarriage and stillbirth events — which are relatively common occurrences; and
  • Leading to disproportionate criminal justice impacts, as the rates of miscarriage and stillbirth vary dramatically by race and ethnicity.

A copy of the California Supreme Court filing is available here, and a copy of the proposed amicus brief is available here.

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