ACLU Files Brief in Support of Motion to Reopen Case of Woman Convicted of Murder for Stillborn Birth

By Özge Terzioğlu

FRESNO— The ACLU of Northern California and Drug Policy Alliance filed briefs in support of a motion to allow for Adora Perez, who is serving 11 years in prison for manslaughter after delivering a stillbirth baby, to appeal her case.

Attorneys Mary McNamara and Audrey Barron of Swanson & McNamara LLP and Matthew Missakian of the Law Office of C. Matthew Missakian filed the motion, arguing that “Ms. Perez was prosecuted for a crime that doesn’t exist and is now imprisoned based on a plea that shouldn’t have been accepted.”

Perez was charged with murder in 2017 for taking methamphetamines while pregnant, even though “California law explicitly exempts women from murder liability for any actions they take that may end their pregnancy.”

Her attorney at the time told her to plead guilty to manslaughter and serve 11 years in prison to avoid worse charges.

The ACLU’s supporting brief argues that “Perez’s conviction also violates the U.S. and California Constitutions. Laws that criminalize people for their pregnancy outcomes create a near-limitless level of liability under which women could be charged with murder for any behavior that could potentially harm their pregnancy, including jaywalking or working at a physically strenuous or stressful job.”

Jennifer Chou, Reproductive Justice and Gender Equity Attorney at the ACLU of Northern California, chastised the prosecution’s focus in Perez’s case.

“The prosecution’s fixation on punishment instead of prevention is unconstitutional and backward. We should all be asking ourselves: why is it that we have little to no money to spend on supporting parents, pregnant women, and people suffering from addiction, but unlimited funds for incarceration?” Chou said.

Additionally, Kellen Russoniello, a Senior Staff Attorney from the Drug Policy Alliance, also commented on the implications of Perez’s conviction.

“In addition to violating the law, punishing people for the outcomes of their pregnancies harms pregnancies, expectant parents, and families as a whole. This approach is strongly opposed by medical and public health professionals, who agree that expanding access to voluntary, patient-centered prenatal and substance use services is the ethical and effective way to improve birth outcomes,” she said.

The same prosecutors in Kings County also recently charged another woman, Chelsea Becker, with murder for a stillbirth. Just earlier this year, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed a brief in her support.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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