Chelsea Becker’s meth use and her stillborn baby should not result in homicide charges

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Chelsea Cheyenne Becker was charged with murder in connection with her baby’s stillborn delivery, who was later determined to have methamphetamine in his/her system. The 25-year-old remains in custody following her arrest over a year ago.

Becker is charged under a controversial statute. The California Attorney General,  Xavier Becerra, had urged the California Supreme Court to rule that the statute does not apply to Becker.

From a policy perspective, Becerra argued the case against Becker might prevent other pregnant women struggling with drug use from getting help or spark increased law enforcement attention to stillbirths and miscarriages.

Specifically, he argued that the Legislature intended only to ensure that a third party who unlawfully kills a fetus does not escape punishment. According to his Proposed Brief, Becker’s addiction would cause Becker to fall under the statute’s exception. He said, “the courts should not assume that the Legislature intended such a sweeping and invasive change to the criminal law affecting women’s lives without clear evidence of that intent. And such evidence is absent here.”

The California State Supreme Court apparently rejected Becerra’s challenge. Becker, who has pleaded not guilty, is being held on $2 million bail.

 Becker was addicted to methamphetamine. We agree with Becerra that the statute authorizing murder charges, in this case, does not apply to Becker; she falls under the exception to the statute. Her addiction strips her ability to make informed long-termed decisions. Moreover, the amended statute’s purpose was designed to prevent third parties from harming a fetus, not the mother. It might be a different case if the statute required specific intent to harm the fetus and not impose liability in the absolute sense. But that is not what we have here.

This law will promote clandestine abortions and fear in women who are already are likely to be mistreated and desperately need treatment, not criminal prosecution.

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