Murder Charges Dropped Against Mom Who Had Stillbirth

Calif. judge says not enough proof Chelsea Becker knew her meth use might harm fetus
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 21, 2021 7:50 AM CDT
Murder Charges Dropped Against Mom Who Had Stillbirth
A Nov. 6, 2019, file photo of Chelsea Becker.   (Hanford Police Department via AP, File)

In September 2019, 26-year-old Chelsea Becker, who was 8 1/2 months pregnant, delivered a stillborn baby. Two months later, she was arrested and charged with murder, accused of taking meth just days before her stillbirth. Those charges have now been dismissed, with a California judge ruling that prosecutors didn't prove that Becker took drugs knowing her son could be killed. Per the New York Times, Judge Robert Shane Burns handed down his decision Thursday in Kings County Superior Court. Becker challenged the murder charges in 2020 and had her efforts rejected by both that court and an appellate court, bouncing it back to the Kings County court. At the center of the case is California's homicide law, which includes fetuses as potential victims, with some exceptions. Critics of the charges against Becker say the statute was never meant to cover stillbirths and miscarriages.

In Becker's case, although the coroner's report listed the fetus's death as a homicide due to toxic levels of meth, Becker's legal team said her medical records, which showed she'd had three reproductive tract infections that could have caused the stillbirth, were ignored, per the AP. Dan Arshack, one of Becker's attorneys, tells the Los Angeles Times that Becker didn't seem to realize what the drugs could do to her fetus, as she'd given birth to three other children with little issue while dealing with her addiction. Although glad their client is in the clear, Becker's legal team had hoped the judge would rule the law doesn't apply to pregnant women. "We are disappointed that a dismissal on these grounds does not foreclose the possibility that a misguided prosecutor may attempt a similar prosecution in the future," says Jacqueline Goodman, another of Becker's lawyers. Meanwhile, Arshack says his client is "incredibly relieved" at the outcome and that she's now in a drug treatment facility. (More stillbirth stories.)

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