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Court split on dismissing murder, attempted feticide charges

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In a case of first impression involving a mother who ingested rat poison in an attempt to kill herself and her unborn child, one Indiana Court of Appeals judge felt that if the feticide statute is applied to women’s prenatal conduct, it might lead to a “slippery slope” in which a full range of a woman’s conduct while pregnant could fall under the feticide statute.

Bei Bei Shuai got pregnant during an affair with a married man, and when he ended their relationship, she decided to ingest rat poison to kill herself and her 33-week-old fetus. Both she and the fetus originally survived, but the baby had to be delivered by emergency C-section and died days later. The coroner concluded that A.S. died of “intracerebral hemorrhage due to maternal Coumadin ingestion.” Coumadin is a variant of an ingredient found in rat poison.

The state charged Shuai with felony murder and Class B felony attempted feticide. Shuai’s request for bail was denied, as was her motion to dismiss. Whether or not the murder and feticide statutes can be applied to a woman in this situation is one of first impression.

The appellate court unanimously agreed in Bei Bei Shuai v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-1106-CR-486, that the trial court erred in denying Shuai’s request for bail. While evidence was presented to show she ingested rat poison with the intent to kill herself and her child, Shuai also presented evidence to support alternate explanations for the hemorrhage that led to A.S.’s death. The COA remanded for a determination of bail.

The judges split with regards to dismissing the charges against Shuai. The charging information said Shuai, on Dec. 23, 2010, knowingly killed her fetus that had attained viability when she ingested the rat poison and caused A.S. to be born in distress and subsequently die. Shuai claimed A.S. didn’t die on Dec. 23 because she was born alive and died on Jan. 3. When she died, she was no longer a fetus and now a human being.

The state argued that even though A.S.’s birth changed her from a “viable fetus” to a “human being,” it was Shuai’s actions that caused her death and the date she took the rat poison doesn’t matter.

The majority held that the charging information isn’t defective and that the feticide is not ambiguous as applied here. The plain language of the statute encompasses Shuai’s alleged actions and she doesn’t have immunity from prosecution.

Judge Patricia Riley dissented because she believed the charges should be dismissed. The facts show that on Dec. 23, Shuai didn’t kill a viable fetus, and the state didn’t provide evidence that Shuai did anything to endanger A.S. after her birth. She disagreed with the state’s contention that the categories of “viable fetus” and “another human being” as defined in the murder statute, can be used interchangeably with the focus on Shuai’s actions, not A.S.’s legal status.

“By arguing that A.S.’s legal status as a viable fetus and as a human being are interchangeable, the State disregards legislative reality and impermissibly attempts to enlarge the murder statute,” she wrote. “In light of Indiana's long-standing statutory and case law history, I conclude that it was never the intention of the legislature that the feticide statute should be used to criminalize prenatal conduct of a pregnant woman. Rather, the statute should only be applied to third-party conduct which endangers or harms a non-viable fetus.”


 

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  1. The child support award is many times what the custodial parent earns, and exceeds the actual costs of providing for the children's needs. My fiance and I have agreed that if we divorce, that the children will be provided for using a shared checking account like this one(http://www.mediate.com/articles/if_they_can_do_parenting_plans.cfm) to avoid the hidden alimony in Indiana's child support guidelines.

  2. Fiat justitia ruat caelum is a Latin legal phrase, meaning "Let justice be done though the heavens fall." The maxim signifies the belief that justice must be realized regardless of consequences.

  3. Indiana up holds this behavior. the state police know they got it made.

  4. Additional Points: -Civility in the profession: Treating others with respect will not only move others to respect you, it will show a shared respect for the legal system we are all sworn to protect. When attorneys engage in unnecessary personal attacks, they lose the respect and favor of judges, jurors, the person being attacked, and others witnessing or reading the communication. It's not always easy to put anger aside, but if you don't, you will lose respect, credibility, cases, clients & jobs or job opportunities. -Read Rule 22 of the Admission & Discipline Rules. Capture that spirit and apply those principles in your daily work. -Strive to represent clients in a manner that communicates the importance you place on the legal matter you're privileged to handle for them. -There are good lawyers of all ages, but no one is perfect. Older lawyers can learn valuable skills from younger lawyers who tend to be more adept with new technologies that can improve work quality and speed. Older lawyers have already tackled more legal issues and worked through more of the problems encountered when representing clients on various types of legal matters. If there's mutual respect and a willingness to learn from each other, it will help make both attorneys better lawyers. -Erosion of the public trust in lawyers wears down public confidence in the rule of law. Always keep your duty to the profession in mind. -You can learn so much by asking questions & actively listening to instructions and advice from more experienced attorneys, regardless of how many years or decades you've each practiced law. Don't miss out on that chance.

  5. Agreed on 4th Amendment call - that was just bad policing that resulted in dismissal for repeat offender. What kind of parent names their boy "Kriston"?

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