Lawyers for an unborn child are seeking the fetus’s release from jail. How did the unborn child end up behind bars? Why do lawyers think the mother should be released on behalf of her child?
And what did the court say about the request?
What Put a Woman (and Her Unborn Child) Behind Bars?
On July 23, 2022, Natalia Harrell, 24, was six weeks pregnant when she went out for a night of clubbing on South Beach in Miami, Florida.
According to reports, she was out with a group of friends and acquaintances which included Yvette Borcela, 28. Harrell was reportedly annoyed with Borcela while in the club. When the group of seven piled into an Uber, the two women began to argue.
Harrell reportedly said to Borcela, “You don’t want this; you don’t want me to go in my purse.”
Harrell pulled out a gun and fired one shot at Borcela, killing the mother of three.
Multiple witnesses saw the encounter, and the incident was caught on a camera inside the Uber. The video shows the driver stopping the vehicle after the shot and the occupants fleeing the scene, except for Borcela.
Days later, Harrell was arrested and charged with second-degree murder. She faces a maximum sentence of life in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Since her arrest, Harrell — and her unborn child — have been held without bond at the Miami-Dade jail.
Now, the baby’s father is trying to get Harrell and the baby released.
A Petition To Release the Unborn Child From Jail
In February 2023, the unborn child’s father hired attorney William N. Norris to represent the fetus. Norris filed a petition for Harrel, who is now eight months pregnant, to be released on house arrest with permission to leave for doctor’s visits.
Norris claims that the fetus is being unlawfully detained and that the mother has been denied “proper and continual prenatal medical care and nutrition.” James Reyes, the director of the Miami jail claims Harrell and her unborn baby have received adequate nutrition and prenatal care while in their care.
But Norris says the unborn child has rights that are being violated.
Norris’s argument points to recent changes in both national and Florida laws that give constitutional rights to an unborn child.
What Is the Legal Reasoning?
Norris argued to the court that, “the Florida Legislature has expressed a clear intent to afford certain protections to unborn children.”
Norris claims that Florida has passed laws with the intent to protect the lives of unborn children, and that in the wake of the reversal of Roe V. Wade, unborn children have constitutional rights that need to be protected. He believes two Florida laws highlight this fact.
Florida House Bill 5 bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis described the bill as protection for unborn babies saying, “House Bill 5 protects babies in the womb who have beating hearts, who can move, who can taste, who can see, and who can feel pain.”
Another Florida law outlines murder charges for killing an unborn child. Florida Statute 782.09 says individuals can be charged with murder for killing an unborn child by injuring the mother.
Norris points to these laws in his argument for releasing Harrel and her unborn child. He told TODAY.com, “An unborn child is accepted as a ‘person’ in many respects under the law.” Norris made the argument that Harrel’s unborn child should have protection. The filing claims the unborn child’s, “constitutionally protected due process rights have been clearly violated.”
But did the court agree?
What Did the Court Say?
Florida’s 3rd District Court of Appeals rejected Norris’ argument.
As reported by NBC Miami, the court issued an 11-page ruling saying Harrell’s unborn child is not unlawfully detained because it exists inside its mother, who is lawfully detained. The court didn’t appear to fully dismiss the petition based on merits and said the facts of the case need to be established in the lower courts first.
The rights of unborn children will remain a developing area of the law, and Norris plans to continue to fight to free the unborn child. He plans to file an emergency motion in the circuit court.
Harrell’s next court date for the murder charge is March 7, 2023.
Get Legal Advice on Complex Cases
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