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Source: US State of California

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

SACRAMENTO — California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today submitted an amicus curiae letter to the Supreme Court of California supporting a petition for review by Chelsea Becker, a woman who was arrested and charged with murder in Kings County after delivering a stillborn child. In July, the Attorney General filed an amicus brief in the Fifth District Court of Appeals in support of Ms. Becker’s petition to end the prosecution and all criminal proceedings against her. Ms. Becker remains in custody at this time.

In October, the Attorney General filed a letter of non-opposition in Adora Perez v. Superior Court of Kings County. Similar to Ms. Becker, the Kings County District Attorney prosecuted Adora Perez for “fetal murder” under California Penal Code Section 187. Ms. Perez is currently serving an 11-year prison term.

“Section 187 of the California Penal Code was intended to protect pregnant women from harm, not to be used to prosecute for murder a woman who has just lost a pregnancy,” said Attorney General Becerra. “We will continue to work to see our laws properly applied in order to end Ms. Becker and Ms. Perez’s imprisonments and protect women from similar prosecution in the future.”

The Kings County District Attorney alleged that Ms. Becker’s methamphetamine use while she was pregnant led to the death of the fetus and constituted murder. He charged Ms. Becker with violating section 187 of the California Penal Code on October 31, 2019.

In today’s letter, the Attorney General argues that when the California Legislature amended section 187 of the California Penal Code in 1970 to include the death of a fetus, the intent was not to include a woman’s own actions that might result in a miscarriage or stillbirth. Rather, the intent was to criminalize violence done to pregnant women that caused fetal death.

In addition, the Attorney General urged the California Supreme Court to intervene to avoid several consequences caused by misinterpretation of section 187, including:

  • Deterring pregnant women with addiction issues from seeking out necessary, and sometimes lifesaving, healthcare for fear of criminal liability and imprisonment; and
  • Additional and unnecessary scrutiny by law enforcement on every miscarriage and stillbirth. Added scrutiny could have disproportionate criminal justice impacts, as the rates of miscarriage and stillbirth vary dramatically by race and ethnicity.

A copy of the letter is available here.

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