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A California judge throws out the conviction of a woman whose baby was stillborn

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A Central Valley woman’s 11-year sentence was overturned this week after a Kings County judge ruled her plea of ​​first-degree murder was unlawful.

Adora Perez was originally charged with murder after giving birth to a stillborn baby at Adventist Health Hanford on December 30, 2017. Tests revealed her son Hades had methamphetamine in his system, and a doctor told investigators he believed the drug was responsible for his death, court records show.

Fearing she could face a life sentence, Perez pleaded no plea to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 11 years in prison in June 2018.

The case opened a year-long legal battle that is still ongoing after Kings County Superior Court Judge Valerie Chrissakis signed an order on Wednesday overturning Perez’s plea and verdict.

“All parties agree that voluntary fetal death is not a crime in California,” Chrissakis wrote in her ruling. “With faced [her] unlawful pleading on the basis of factual or legal impossibility… the trial court should have refused its assent.”

Perez was released from state prison to the Kings County Jail, according to the order. The murder charge was reinstated and she was ordered to appear in court on April 6.

“Adora Perez has committed no crime but has served more than four years in prison,” her attorneys, Audrey Barron and Mary McNamara, said in a statement Thursday. “We are very grateful that Judge Chrissakis dismissed Ms. Perez’s claim of involuntary manslaughter, which was unlawful. Unfortunately, she remains in custody and faces another murder charge in Kings County.”

Lawyers said they will ask the court to release Perez on bail while they work to have her murder charges dismissed.

California Atty. General Rob Bonta has made it clear that women in California cannot be prosecuted for stillbirth, Barron and McNamara said, adding that they hope the Kings County Attorney’s Office will promptly dismiss the case.

The district attorney’s representative could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Bonta issued a statement welcoming the judge’s decision, which he called “the start of an overdue course correction.”

Perez will have an opportunity to argue that, according to Bonta’s statement, murder “does not cover the conduct or omissions of pregnant persons that result in stillbirth.”

“This decision is a good first step in affirming what we know to be true, no woman should be penalized for losing her pregnancy,” he said. “As we have repeatedly stated, the remaining murder charge is unlawful and we will continue to support Ms. Perez in her fight to challenge those charges. Conclusion: Pregnant women are protected by the law and not criminalized.”

Before Perez, no woman in California had gone to prison for the death of her unborn child.

In 1970, after the California Supreme Court vacated the murder conviction of a man who had beaten his pregnant wife and killed their unborn child, the legislature amended the state’s murder statute to make it possible to charge someone with the death of a fetus.

But a section in the law states that it does not apply to acts “requested, assisted, assisted, or consented to by the mother of the fetus.”

Attempts to convict women of killing their unborn children had been crushed by Perez.

She grew up in Hanford, California, an old railroad town just south of Fresno. Her childhood was short. She said she was repeatedly molested by a family friend and became pregnant by another man when she was 14. She was smoking meth when she was 16.

At 21, she met the man who would become the father of eight of her children. He hit her during each of those pregnancies, her aunt Sabrina Perez told the Times in 2020.

Perez attempted to break her addiction many times, including during her most recent pregnancy when she moved back in with her aunt and managed to stay clean for nearly three months, her aunt said.

But her success was undercut by her boyfriend, said the aunt. He persuaded her to rent a hotel room, where her weak grasp of sobriety slipped.

Perez was jailed for about three months when prosecutors offered her the deal of not contesting voluntary manslaughter.

They presented the agreement as a way for her to spend the rest of her life in prison, but her attorneys at the time didn’t tell her that state statutes don’t contain a provision that would allow a woman to be charged with killing her fetus, Perez told the Times in 2020.

She accepted the settlement but regretted it almost immediately.

“I realized, ‘Oh my god, I just pleaded guilty without pleading guilty,'” Perez said, referring to the no-contest plea, which amounts to a conviction.

She and her family scraped together several thousand dollars to hire a private attorney to withdraw the agreement, but Kings County Superior Court Judge Robert Burns refused and sentenced her to a maximum sentence of 11 years.

A court-appointed attorney began her appeal but did not advance any specific legal challenges, McNamara said in 2020.

When an appeals court upheld Perez’s lawsuit in March 2019, her case seemed finally closed.

Then another woman was arrested in a case that bore striking similarities.

Also growing up in Hanford, Chelsea Becker struggled with a methamphetamine addiction and gave birth to a stillbirth at Adventist Health nearly two years after Perez. Hospital staff called the authorities.

She was appointed the same public defender as Perez and appeared before the same judge.

However, Becker’s case received national attention and was dismissed in May 2021.

Lawyers discovered Perez when a Times reporter, while writing about Becker, stumbled upon the case and asked attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union about the validity of Perez’s conviction.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-03-18/california-judge-overturns-conviction-woman-whose-baby-was-stillborn A California judge throws out the conviction of a woman whose baby was stillborn

Dais Johnston

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