Wednesday, December 15, 2004

the peterson sentence and fetal homicide laws

Jury Says Scott Peterson Should Die for Murder

Controversial issue of fetal homicide arises in Laci Peterson case

At this point I'm probably the only person on the web who hasn't registered an opinion on this case, so I'm going to fix that.

Since I did not sit on the jury and have the benefit of seeing all the evidence in the case that those present in the court did see, I will trust the judgment of the jury. The jury found him guilty of one count of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder, and recommended the death sentence. Rot in hell, motherfucker.

The part of this case that bothers me is the fetal homicide law that was used to make it a double murder case. At what point is an unborn child considered an independent legal entity, which can be murdered? After a live birth? At conception, the zygote stage? At first movement in the womb, or "quickening"? When the embryo has developed into a fetus, about 7 weeks?

The problem I have with fetal homicide laws is the potential there is for using them to weaken abortion rights laws, or at the very least, to influence the public's perception of abortion rights. Most people are going to hear/read about fetal homicide laws, and know that it's against the law to kill a fetus. The general public isn't going to be bothered with learning or caring about the exclusions for legal abortions. In turn, physicians, nurses, and others who work in clinics which offer abortion services will face even more negative public opinion. Too many health-care workers have been killed and maimed in this country for performing a legal medical procedure that some people don't agree with. With the publicity surrounding the Peterson trial, I'm concerned that there will be more of a backlash against such health-care workers, simply because of public ignorance.

Of course, without the fetal homicide law in California, the prosecution would have only been able to prosecute for a single case of first-degree murder, which in California is not a capital offense. By using the fetal homicide law, the prosecution was able to get a conviction for one case of first-degree murder and one case of second-degree murder. Committing a first-degree murder while committing a second-degree murder is a capital offense in California. The prosecution gets what they want, the death penalty for a high-profile and gruesome case.

There's no easy answer. In this country, there is a tendency to be very reactionary in lawmaking, to pass laws as a result of high-profile cases, and appease the public. There are other legal devices to prosecute someone for harming/killing a fetus without considering it a separate legal entity. North Carolina has laws providing punishment for harming a fetus, in one case the defendant was found guilty of "using an instrument with intent to destroy an unborn child". Lawmakers just need to actually think about what they're trying to do, be proactive and not reactive.

(Mira slaps herself)

Got a little idealistic there, I forgot well how Congress and the state legislatures get bogged down with getting themselves re-elected. "You mean we're supposed to actually create and pass laws while we're here?"

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