How Can a Lawyer Reverse Your Manslaughter Conviction | The Case of Adora Perez
In the mulling case of In re Perez, the court considers the issue of whether California’s murder statute allows for the prosecution of women whose babies are stillborn as a result of the mother’s illegal drug use.
In 2017, Ms. Perez suffered a stillbirth, meaning her unborn child died while still in the womb, at a hospital in Kings County. As a result, Perez was charged with murder under California Penal Code section 187, for causing the death of her own fetus through the use of methamphetamines during pregnancy. Due to the possibility of a 25 years to life sentence for a murder charge, Perez pleaded no contest to manslaughter and was sentenced to 11 years in prison. PC section 187 states murder is the unlawful killing of a human being, or fetus, with malice aforethought. On the other hand, California Penal Code section 192(a) states “manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice…upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion.” The killing of an unborn fetus cannot constitute manslaughter, because a fetus is not a “human being” as defined by PC section 192. Upon review of the conviction for the manslaughter conviction, a judge for the Superior Court of California found that the plea agreement should never have been accepted. Since a person cannot be convicted of manslaughter for the death of a fetus, a plea agreement contemplating such is illegal. Attorney General Rob Bonta further commented on the decision of the Superior Court judge that the language in section 187 was created to ensure a “third party” who killed a fetus would not escape punishment. But, it was not created to criminalize a woman’s own actions that might result in a stillbirth or miscarriage. Attorney General Bonta further stated that using Penal Code section 187 to criminalize the actions of pregnant women could have more dangerous repercussions, including:
- Deterring women with addiction disorders, who may now fear criminal liability and imprisonment, from seeking necessary, and sometimes life-saving healthcare;
- It would subject all women who suffer a pregnancy loss to the threat of criminal investigation and possible prosecution for murder; and
- Leading to disproportionate criminal justice impacts, as the rates of miscarriage and stillbirth vary dramatically by race and ethnicity
Ms. Perez only pled guilty to the voluntary manslaughter charge based on the mistaken claim that a murder conviction was possible due to the circumstances of the case. However, upon the facts presented by the DA, murder should not have been an option in the first place and, as a result, the plea for manslaughter should have never been needed.
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