Pregnant Florida Woman Accused of Murder Loses Petition to Be Released From Jail Based on Baby’s Right to Liberty

The Habeas Corpus case of a woman accused of murder on behalf of her preborn child has been dismissed in a unanimous 3-0 decision by Florida’s Third District Court of Appeals.

The woman is awaiting trial on second degree murder charges after she was caught on camera shooting and killing a fellow passenger while riding in an Uber in Miami.

The woman’s attorney, William Norris, made the petition for Habeas Corpus to the Court of Appeals alleging both that the care the mother was receiving was inadequate, and independently, on behalf of the preborn child.

In a ruling released last Friday, February 25th, the judges dismissed the case on both counts.

On the allegation that the pregnant woman was not being given adequate care, the court rejected the petition, stating that the question was contested by the department of corrections and was a question that needed to be developed further at the trial level.

The Director of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, James Reyes, argued in a response to the filing, that the petition should be dismissed, claiming that both the woman and her baby’s care are a priority for the department and pointing to the fact that she had gained more than 30 pounds while in custody due to adequate nutrition.

The Court also dismissed the independent cause of the baby for Habeas Corpus because “among other things, we do not believe we can properly resolve whether the unborn child has the standing to file the petition before us given the inadequate record in this matter.”

In a concurring opinion, Judge Monica Gordo, while agreeing with the outcome, stated that a child in the womb could not be the basis for a write of Habeas Corpus freeing the mother, any more than a mother could be accused of kidnapping her child for visiting a relative outside the state while pregnant. Judge Gordo emphasized that the writ of Habeas Corpus is “meant to prevent the unlawful detainment of persons by the government.” Because the detention of the mother is lawful, the resulting detention of the child cannot be unlawful. Judge Gordo concluded by characterizing the legal maneuver as “nothing more than an attempt for the mother to leverage her unborn child as a basis to be released from lawful detention.”

Notably, the court did not state that the law could disregard the interests of the child in the womb, quite the opposite. Judge Gordo cited Florida law that requires pregnant women to be given access to prenatal care and appropriate care for themselves and their preborn baby.

An inmate who is pregnant shall be provided with prenatal care and medical treatment for the duration of her pregnancy. The county shall ensure that a pregnant inmate receives supplemental food and clothing and is excused from inappropriate work assignments. An inmate shall be transferred to a hospital outside the detention facility grounds if a condition develops which is beyond the scope and capabilities of the county detention center’s medical facilities.

Section 951.175(4), Florida Statutes

The full opinion of the court can be read here.

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