Should Unborn Babies Be Protected Under Murder Laws?

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In summary, the California Supreme Court debated the philosophical argument of when the murder of a pregnant woman can also be considered the murder of her fetus. This issue arose in the case of Scott Peterson, who is being prosecuted for double murder for the deaths of his wife, Laci, and her 8-month-old unborn child. The court must decide whether a murderer must know the victim was pregnant to be guilty of murdering the unborn. The case reached the high court after a state appeals court overturned the fetal-murder conviction of Harold Taylor, who successfully argued that he could not be prosecuted for murdering the unborn child of his victim, Patty Fansler, whom he shot and killed in a
  • #1
member 5645
Double murder: Court must decide if unborn a child or fetus





January 08, 2004 — 2:07 a.m.
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — When is the murder of a pregnant woman the murder of her fetus?

That was the philosophical argument the California Supreme Court debated Wednesday. A lower court, for the first time, said a murderer must know the victim was pregnant to be guilty of murdering the unborn.

California's fetal-murder law was first passed by the Legislature in 1970. The law is being used to prosecute Scott Peterson for double murder in connection with the deaths of his wife, Laci, and her 8-month-old unborn child.

The Legislature adopted the fetal-murder law, which excludes abortions, after the California Supreme Court overturned the fetal-murder conviction of a Stockton man who, while beating his estranged wife, killed her unborn child. At the time, the court dismissed the conviction because California's murder law did not recognize a fetus.

Now that California's murder law recognizes fetuses, the issue before the justices was whether that law should treat the unborn the same as it does the born.

The case reached the high court after a state appeals court overturned the fetal-murder conviction of Harold Taylor, a Vietnam veteran found guilty of murdering his former Mendocino County lover who investigators said was at least 10 weeks pregnant.

On appeal, Taylor claimed he didn't know victim Patty Fansler was pregnant, and he successfully argued that he could not be prosecuted for murdering her fetus, which died when Taylor, in a fit of rage, shot and killed the woman in her Ukiah apartment in 1999.

In overturning the fetal-murder conviction, the San Francisco-based 1st District Court of Appeal ruled in 2002 that murder in California requires "malice aforethought" — a willful intent to take the life of another — and a "conscious disregard" for life.

The court, in making a highly nuanced and esoteric distinction between the born and unborn, ruled that it's not a conscious disregard for life if a fetus — unbeknownst to the killer — dies when its mother is murdered.

"As contrasted to the risk to human life, the risk to unknown fetal life is latent and indeterminate, something the average person would not be aware of or consciously disregard," the appeals court ruled.

During nearly an hour of arguments among the justices and lawyers Wednesday, a majority appeared satisfied that prior knowledge of pregnancy was not necessary to sustain a fetal-murder conviction. Still, Justice Joyce Kennard said, "I find it a very difficult issue."

California's law in question, with various versions in 29 states, exempts abortion and applies to all fetuses beyond eight weeks gestation. Many other states cover fetuses that are viable — ones that can live outside the womb. Congress is considering adopting a fetal-homicide rule.

Chief Justice Ronald M. George and other justices wondered aloud that it might not be practical to demand knowledge of pregnancy. Sometimes, the justices said, it might be too hard to know whether a woman is pregnant.

What if the pregnant woman is a cross-dresser, George asked. Justice Marvin Baxter suggested a woman's obesity might mask her pregnancy.

Deputy Attorney General Ross Moody, in urging the court to reinstate Taylor's fetal-murder conviction, told the justices it doesn't matter whether a murderer knew a woman was pregnant.

"It should make no difference," he asserted.

Under California's Penal Code, he said, a person can be convicted of more than one count of murder if he shot somebody in an apartment and the bullet traveled through the wall and killed a neighbor he didn't know was home. In addition, he said, a drunken driver who crashes into a car can be convicted of killing all the passengers under a rule known as the "unknown victim scenario."

It would be ridiculous, he suggested, if one of those passengers was a fetus and the law did not protect it solely because the drunken driver did not know a passenger was pregnant.

Taylor's attorney, Joseph Shipp, told the justices to uphold the appellate court's decision. "Fetal life is different," he said.

Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar didn't agree.

"What policy reasons would there be to draw these fine lines of distinction?" she asked. Justice Janice Rogers Brown was not persuaded by Shipp's argument, either. "What's the difference?" she demanded.

Taylor got a sentence of 65 years to life. The appeals court decision knocked it down to 40 years to life.

The court must rule within 90 days.





Thursday, January 8, 2004

So, are we really looking to "protect abortion" so much that we will allow people's babies to be killed with no consequence (or even just an assault charge)??
 
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  • #2
From the other side, do we need to politicize the criminal justice system in the way that some people suggest?
 
  • #3
Originally posted by Zero
From the other side, do we need to politicize the criminal justice system in the way that some people suggest?


I personally think it's a clear cut case of "you killed a lady and her baby" - two murder counts.

However, the ACLU sees this as an attack on abortion and is part of the filing that is looking to overturn the law so babies will just be considered nothing, or a body part (thus an assault).
 
  • #4
Here are the parts I don't get:
The Legislature adopted the fetal-murder law, which excludes abortions,
...and...
California's law in question, with various versions in 29 states, exempts abortion

How?![?]

Either a fetus is a living human being or not. If it is, then killing one is murder; if not, then killing one is not murder. It can't go both ways.
 
  • #5
The ruling may hinge on whether the fetus was potentially viable outside the womb or because they are now deceased from intent to murder. Disparity between fetal infanticide and abortion laws will eventually be resolved more in terms of the intent of the actor (on the one hand expressed in the medical decision of those pregnant) than the human likeness of the fetus.
 
  • #6
I have to agree with you on this one, LURCH; it is pretty ridiculous.
 
  • #7
Doesn't this work on the principle of if you killed someone without knowing you were going to kill them, are you still guilty of murder.

I'm thinking "manslaughter" would be an appropriate sentence.
 
  • #8
Originally posted by Shahil
Doesn't this work on the principle of if you killed someone without knowing you were going to kill them, are you still guilty of murder.

I'm thinking "manslaughter" would be an appropriate sentence.


Murder 2 is, in most states, described as "depraved indifference" to human life. If you setup a situation in which you knowlingly put someone in danger, and they die, then it can easily be Murder 2, even if you didn't KNOW you were goign to kill them. Thus, if you killed a woman, it could be argued that you were indifferent to whether she was pregnant or not, and setup a scenario in which if she was, the baby would die.
 
  • #9
But the law has never before taken pregnancy into account. Suppose you injure a woman without killing her, but cause her to miscarry. Are you guilty of murdering her fetus? This is a situation where there is a lot of past case law. Is it all to be overthrown?
 
  • #10
1 count murder, 1 count babyslaughter?
 
  • #11
Originally posted by LURCH
Either a fetus is a living human being or not. If it is, then killing one is murder; if not, then killing one is not murder. It can't go both ways.

The South in America in the antebellum period made their slaves three/fifths of a person for voting in order to gain influence.

So in this case, if it is applied, killing a mother with a fetus would be 8/5ths murder count, or 1.6 counts of murder.
 
  • #12
Have I mentioned that there is some good eating on a fetus?
 

Related to Should Unborn Babies Be Protected Under Murder Laws?

What is a "Fetal Murder law"?

A "Fetal Murder law" is a term used to describe a law that recognizes the intentional or unintentional killing of a fetus as a form of homicide or murder.

What are the main arguments for and against "Fetal Murder laws"?

The main argument for "Fetal Murder laws" is that they provide justice for unborn fetuses and hold individuals accountable for their actions. The main argument against these laws is that they can be used to criminalize pregnant individuals and restrict their reproductive rights.

How do "Fetal Murder laws" differ between states?

Each state has its own specific laws and definitions regarding fetal murder. Some states have laws that only apply to intentional harm to a fetus, while others include unintentional harm as well. Additionally, the penalties for fetal murder can vary greatly between states.

How do "Fetal Murder laws" impact abortion rights?

There is ongoing debate about how "Fetal Murder laws" may impact abortion rights. Some argue that these laws could be used to prosecute individuals who have had abortions, while others argue that these laws are separate from abortion laws and do not affect a woman's right to choose.

What is the current stance of the scientific community on "Fetal Murder laws"?

The scientific community does not have a unified stance on "Fetal Murder laws." Some scientists argue that a fetus should be treated as a separate entity with rights, while others believe that the rights of the pregnant individual should take precedence. Ultimately, the scientific community recognizes the complexity of this issue and the need for careful consideration of all perspectives.

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