Chelsea Becker, 26, gave birth to a stillborn in September 2019 who was found to died due to toxic levels of meth (Picture: Kings County Sheriff’s Office)
A mother accused of abusing drugs during all three pregnancies could be cleared of murdering the third infant stillborn with ‘toxic’ levels of drugs in his system.
Chelsea Becker, 26, was charged with murder in November 2019 after giving birth to a boy called Zachariah Joseph Campos a coroner later ruled had been killed by toxic levels of crystal meth in his system.
But Becker, who has remained behind bars since her arrest 16 months ago, could now be released on reduced bail after her lawyers argue that the state’s homicide law does not apply to pregnant women.
California’s top prosecutor – Attorney General Xavier Becerra – supports that claim. Becerra has urged the court to drop the charges but Kings County Superior Court Judge, Robert Shane, has declined to do so.
The mother-of-three has previously pleaded not guilty to murder and a judge is expected to decide, later today, whether or not to release her to a treatment center pending trial.
Two of Becker’s surviving children also tested positive for meth at birth. Prosecutors insist they are entitled to hold Becker to account for repeatedly using dangerous illegal drugs while pregnant, allegedly with fatal consequences.
In September 2019, Becker gave birth to a stillborn child she had named Zachariah Joseph Campos. The coroner’s report listed toxic levels of meth as the child’s cause of death.
Chelsea Becker has been held behind bars since her arrest in November 2019 (Picture: Kings County Sheriff’s Office)
One of Becker’s attorneys, Dan Arshack, presented a counter-argument, however, claiming the pathologist never reviewed her medical record, which included three infections that could have caused the stillbirth.
Arshack added that Becker previously gave birth to two children while abusing drugs and had no reason to believe that meth use would cause a stillbirth.
Phil Esbenshade, the top assistant district attorney in Kings County, said that Becker has repeatedly endangered her children with her narcotics use. Esbenshade has rejected the idea that the law does not apply to her.
California’s top prosecutor, Becerra, meanwhile, has lobbied for Becker’s charges to be dropped and even sent a friend of the court paperwork stating that the law was never meant to apply to pregnant women.
While Judge Robert Shane has shown no intention of dropping the charges, a campaign group for pregnant women’s rights have argued there is no evidence that drug use results in stillbirths.
A spokesperson for National Advocates for Pregnant Women, which is providing legal support for Becker, has said the group is ‘deeply saddened by the case and claims that Becker ‘remains heartbroken’.
Policymakers have debated the intersection of substance use and pregnancy since the late 1980s, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that works to advance sexual and reproductive rights.
The highest courts in Alabama and South Carolina have upheld convictions ruling that substance use while pregnant constitutes criminal child abuse, according to the institute.
But numerous medical and public health groups, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, oppose punishment for drug use while pregnant. There is no evidence that meth use is ‘uniquely and fatally dangerous’ to the fetus, said two doctors in a letter submitted by Becker’s lawyers.
In California, lawmakers amended the state’s murder statute to include a fetus after the California Supreme Court in 1970 overturned the conviction of a man who had beaten a pregnant woman, causing her to lose the baby. Attempts in California in the 1990s to use the law to prosecute pregnant women failed.
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