Who is Chelsea Becker? Woman jailed for 'killing' unborn child after smoking meth days before delivery splits state

The attorney general of California Xavier Becerra had filed an amicus brief on November 5 in support of 26-year-old Chelsea Becker


                            Who is Chelsea Becker? Woman jailed for 'killing' unborn child after smoking meth days before delivery splits state
Chelsea Becker (Kings County Sheriff's Office)

One of California's senior legal officials has shown his support for a young mother charged with murder after her stillborn baby boy was found to have toxic levels of meth in his system, reports Daily Mail. The Attorney General of California Xavier Becerra had filed amicus curiae on November 5 in support of 26-year-old Chelsea Becker, who delivered her dead child in September 2019.

In the brief, Becerra argues that the Kings County District Attorney misinterpreted the law’s intention and that "the court should intervene because Becker’s petition raises an important question of law: specifically, whether a woman can be held to answer for the crime of murder, Penal Code section 187, on allegations that her drug use during pregnancy caused the death of the fetus she was carrying."

Since November 2019, Becker has been in jail in Kings County, California and 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 had filed an amicus brief to the Fifth Court of Appeals in an attempt 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, reports Daily Mail

Becker took her case to the Supreme Court on October 26, 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 had 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.” He also said, “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 had denied the procedural petition to have the charges dismissed and so her attorneys appealed it to the Supreme Court. Jennifer Chou of the ACLU, which also filed an amicus brief in the case, told DailyMail that her case “raises some very serious issues.” “We particularly pay attention to issues coming out of California's central valley: it is incredibly under-resourced. It's very relevant to thinking about how our government systems are actually treating people who need their help,” she said.

Becker's baby was delivered stillborn at a hospital, but the baby’s death was considered suspicious. The Kings County Coroner's Office performed an autopsy and ruled the baby's death a homicide due to toxic levels of meth in the system. After further investigation, police learned about Becker's years of alleged substance abuse. Police allege that Becker has had multiple children removed from her custody due to her substance abuse. Hanford police said that Becker supposedly admitted to officers that she used meth while she was pregnant, even used the drug three days prior to the delivery.
 
Lynn Paltrow, executive director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, which is assisting with Becker's defense, said, “It is outrageous that Ms Becker has been incarcerated since November of 2019 for a nonexistent crime.”

Keith Fagundes, Kings County district attorney, has claimed the murder law supports the charge, referring to a 1970 amendment that added a fetus as a potential victim. Fagundes, in August, had expressed his displeasure of Becerra's weighing in on the case. He told the Los Angeles Times, “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 added, “And unfortunately the petitioner is attempting to couch this in terms of a reproductive rights case and it's not about that.”

Even though the filings do not have an immediate impact on whether the prosecution will go forward, but support from the state’s top lawyer sends a powerful statement, according to Daily Mail.

Daniel Arshack, special counsel to the National Advocates for Pregnant Women said, “The attorney general of California is the highest legal officer in the executive branch of the state government. 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 also gained the support of medical and civil rights organizations. Fifteen groups — including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry — signed onto a brief in support of dismissing the charge. 

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