Pregnancy Justice: The Case of Alicia Beltran

Alicia Beltran, a 28-year-old pregnant woman, sought early prenatal care and confided in health care workers about prior use of painkillers and her efforts to end that use on her own. Instead of commending Ms. Beltran for her progress, her medical practitioners reported her to the Department of Human Services, as a result of which she was arrested on July 18, 2013 by Wisconsin law enforcement officials. Ms. Beltran was forcibly taken into custody when she was 14 weeks pregnant, put into handcuffs and shackles, and brought to a court hearing. Although a lawyer had already been appointed to represent her fetus, Ms. Beltran had no right to counsel -- and therefore had no attorney -- at the court appearance which resulted in her long-term detention. Without testimony from any medical expert and without giving Ms. Beltran any chance to challenge any allegations against her, a family court referee ordered Ms. Beltran to be detained at an inpatient drug treatment program two hours from her home. The program did not provide prenatal care nor the kind of drug treatment those reporting her claimed she needed.

Following Ms. Beltran's federal court habeas filing and national press attention to the case, the state permitted Ms. Beltran to leave in-patient treatment and, subsequently, the State dropped the petition against Ms. Beltran. By that time, however, Ms. Beltran had been detained against her wishes far from family for more than 70 days. It was on the ground that Ms. Beltran had eventually been released and the charges against her dropped that the federal court dismissed the case as moot.