California’s most senior legal official has thrown his weight behind a young mother charged with murder after her stillborn baby boy was found to have toxic levels of meth in his system.
Xavier Becerra, the attorney general of California, filed an amicus brief on November 5 in support of Chelsea Becker, 26, who delivered her dead child in September 2019.
Becker has been in jail in Kings County, California, since November 2019, charged with the baby’s murder.
She has been trying to get the charges against her dismissed, and Becerra has backed her efforts.
In August he filed an amicus brief to the Fifth Court of Appeals in a bid to encourage the court to dismiss the case; on procedural grounds, the Court of Appeals denied an attempt to have the charges against her thrown out, and so Becerra has now filed a similar document, an amicus curiae, in the state Supreme Court.
Chelsea Becker, 26, gave birth to a stillborn boy in Sept 2019 and was arrested in Nov 2019
Xavier Becerra, the California district attorney, has filed a second motion in support of Becker
On October 26 Becker took her case to the Supreme Court, after the Fifth Court of Appeals rejected her appeal to throw out the charges.
‘In the Attorney General’s view, as set out in full in the amicus brief filled in the court of appeal, when the Legislature amended the Penal Code, to include the death of a fetus, it did not intend to sweep in a woman’s own actions that might result in a miscarriage or stillbirth,’ Becerra wrote.
In August, he said: ‘we believe the law was misapplied and misinterpreted.’
He added: ‘Section 187 of the California Penal Code was intended to protect pregnant women from harm, not charge them with murder.
‘Our laws in California do not convict women who suffer the loss of their pregnancy, and in our filing today we are making clear that this law has been misused to the detriment of women, children, and families.
‘We will work to end the prosecution and imprisonment of Ms Becker so we can focus on applying this law to those who put the lives of pregnant women in danger.’
The court denied the procedural petition to have the charges dismissed, and so her attorneys appealed it to the Supreme Court.
Becerra first intervened in August, and then filed a second objection in November
Jennifer Chou of the ACLU, which also filed an amicus brief in the case, told DailyMail.com that her case ‘raises some very serious issues.’
She said the last time a similar case was tried was in the 1990s. In the three cases the ACLU represented the defendants.
‘We particularly pay attention to issues coming out of California’s central valley: it is incredibly under-resourced,’ she said.
‘It’s very relevant to thinking about how our government systems are actually treating people who need their help.’
Becker has a history of battling drug abuse
Becker’s baby was delivered stillborn at a hospital, but the infant’s death was deemed suspicious.
The Kings County Coroner’s Office completed an autopsy and ruled the baby’s death a homicide due to toxic levels of meth in the baby’s system.
After further investigation, police learned about Becker’s years of substance abuse.
Police say Becker has had multiple children removed from her custody due to her substance abuse.
Hanford police said that Becker admitted to officers that she used meth while she was pregnant, even using the drug three days before she gave birth.
Lynn Paltrow, executive director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, which is assisting with Becker’s defense, said the murder charges were ‘outrageous’ and should be dropped.
‘It is outrageous that Ms Becker has been incarcerated since November of 2019 for a nonexistent crime,’ she said.
Keith Fagundes, Kings County district attorney, has maintained the murder law supports the charge, pointing to a 1970 amendment that added a fetus as a potential victim.
A Kings County Superior Court judge sided with his office in June, denying an application by Becker’s lawyers to dismiss the case.
Fagundes said in August that he was angered by Becerra’s weighing in on the case.
‘It’s shocking to me the attorney general’s office has taken a position without ever having contacted our office, without admitting whether they’ve read any police reports, without discussing these issues to say what makes this [case] different,’ he told the Los Angeles Times.
‘And unfortunately the petitioner is attempting to couch this in terms of a reproductive rights case and it’s not about that.’
The filings do not have an immediate impact on whether the prosecution will go forward.
But they are a powerful statement of support from the state’s top lawyer.
Becker was arrested in November 2019 and charged with murder over her stillborn baby
‘The attorney general of California is the highest legal officer in the executive branch of the state government,’ said Daniel Arshack, special counsel to the National Advocates for Pregnant Women.
‘That they felt compelled to alert the court that the Kings County judiciary has misapplied state law is something that the court will not ignore.’
Becker’s case has gained the support of medical and civil rights organizations, with 15 groups — including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry — signing onto a brief in support of dismissing the charge.