FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 9, 2022.
For media inquiries, please contact:
Mary McNamara of Swanson & McNamara LLP, Mary@smllp.law; Pregnancy Justice, email@example.com; and ACLU of Northern California, firstname.lastname@example.org
After four years in prison, Adora Perez's murder charge for experiencing a stillbirth has been dropped. She previously pleaded guilty to a manslaughter charge for the nonexistent crime of experiencing a pregnancy loss, which a California court found unconstitutional earlier this year, sending the case back to trial on murder charges. Ms. Perez had been serving an 11-year sentence until the court released her after her plea was vacated. Today, the DA dismissed the murder charge, which ends the case against Ms. Perez.
In 2018, Ms. Perez was charged with murder after she delivered a stillborn baby at Adventist Hospital in Hanford, California. Kings County District Attorney Keith Fagundes claimed, without scientific basis, that the stillbirth was caused by Ms. Perez's methamphetamine use. Ms. Perez's court-appointed counsel failed to challenge the legitimacy of the prosecution and instead encouraged her to plead guilty to manslaughter of a fetus, an offense that also does not exist in California law. Her original murder charge was reinstated when the manslaughter charge was overturned earlier this year.
Despite the fact that Section 187 of California's homicide law does not authorize prosecutors to charge pregnant people for their own pregnancy loss, DA Fagundes could have attempted to misapply the law yet again. However, DA Fagundes had not yet identified a medical expert to testify that Ms. Perez's methamphetamine use caused the stillbirth, because there is no scientific basis for such a theory, in addition to the fact that the law’s clear language and intent does not allow for such charges in the first place.
"Ms. Perez spent over four years of her life in prison as a result of a case that should never have been brought. As the Attorney General has repeatedly stated on the record in this case, existing California law does not permit prosecuting women for pregnancy loss, no matter the cause. On top of that, the DA failed to produce any expert to support his claim that Ms. Perez's drug use caused the stillbirth. It was an appalling overreach and a frightening exercise of prosecutorial power. We are relieved for Ms. Perez, who can now work on healing and moving forward with her life," said Mary McNamara and Audrey Barron, attorneys from Swanson & McNamara, who represented Ms. Perez.
"We are so happy for Ms. Perez that this unjust prosecution is finally over, but she should not have been charged in the first place, nor spent time in prison," said Samantha Lee, Staff Attorney for Pregnancy Justice. "Ms. Perez spent four years in prison, separated from her family and children, after experiencing a stillbirth. She will finally be able to start to heal from these multiple traumas. This case is just one example of how people's behavior is inappropriately policed just because they are pregnant, a situation that will only get worse if the Supreme Court overturns Roe in June."
Today's victory is thanks to the efforts of Ms. Perez's legal team and advocates: Mary McNamara and Audrey Barron of Swanson & McNamara, C. Matthew Missakian of the Law Offices of C. Matthew Missakian, Pregnancy Justice, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, and the Drug Policy Alliance.
California legislators and the attorney general have been working to shield women against rogue prosecutors and protect Californians’ reproductive rights. Earlier this year, California Assemblymember Buffy Wicks introduced Assembly Bill 2223, which would ensure that people are not investigated, prosecuted, or incarcerated for ending a pregnancy or experiencing pregnancy loss. The bill removes pathways to pregnancy criminalization, including mandated stillbirth reporting requirements, and gives people whose reproductive rights were violated by the government the power to seek legal recourse through a private right of action.
"We are overjoyed for Adora but remain outraged by the system that traumatized her. Every step that led to her imprisonment was an injustice — from the hospital who reported her, to the District Attorney who brought murder charges for a stillbirth," said Jennifer Chou, Staff Attorney at the ACLU of Northern California. "Existing California law already forbids criminally prosecuting pregnancy loss, which should have been enough. But with reproductive freedom under attack, we must ensure that what happened to Adora doesn't happen again. That is why we are proud to co-sponsor AB 2223.”
In January, California Attorney General Rob Bonta issued a legal alert reaffirming that the state's homicide code was never intended to allow charges against people for their own pregnancy loss. In May 2021, a Kings County judge dismissed a separate, but factually nearly identical case against Chelsea Becker, who was also charged with murder by DA Fagundes, for experiencing a stillbirth.
Pregnancy criminalization has more than tripled across the country in recent years to include more than 1,300 cases from 2006 through 2020, according to Pregnancy Justice data. And from the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling through 2020, Pregnancy Justice has documented more than 1,700 cases of arrests, prosecutions, detentions, or forced medical interventions carried out against pregnant people.