California Court Upholds Unborn Victims Law Used to Charge Scott Peterson

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 5, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

California Court Upholds Unborn Victims Law Used to Charge Scott Peterson

by Steven Ertelt Editor
April 5, 2004

Sacramento, CA ( — In another victory for laws that target violence against pregnant women, California’s high court has upheld the state’s unborn victims law that is being used to charge Scott Peterson with the deaths of Laci and her unborn son Conner.

Ina 6-1 decision, the California Supreme Court ruled that a lower court was wrong to say that a criminal who kills or injures an unborn child must first know the woman he attacks is pregnant before he can be charged with the additional crime.

A California appeals court overturned a conviction against a man found guilty of murdering his former lover, who was 10 weeks pregnant. In the process, he also killed her baby.

In his appeal, Harold Taylor’s attorneys argued that he did not know Patty Fansler was pregnant and, therefore, could not be held liable for the baby’s death.

The California high court disagreed.

Writing for the majority, Justice Janice Rogers Brown wrote, "Had one of Fansler’s other children died during defendant’s assault, there would be no inquiry into whether defendant knew the child was present."

Brown, who was nominated by Bush to a federal appeals court position, continued: "Similarly, there is no principled basis on which to require defendant to know Fansler was pregnant to justify an implied malice murder conviction as to her fetus. He did not need to be specifically aware how many potential victims his conscious disregard for life endangered."

Justice Joyce Kennard was the lone dissenter and said the law is too vague.

Pro-life groups applauded the California court’s ruling.

Douglas Johnson, legislative director for National Right to Life, commented, "This ruling makes clear that under California law, as under the federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act, if criminal intent towards one victim is proved, a criminal will be held responsible for the harm he does to other victims as well, including unborn children."

Johnson said he believes unborn victims legislation will deter crimes against both who are pregnant and those who are not.

Because of the California ruling, Taylor will stay in prison about 25 years longer than he would have otherwise.

The decision continues the string of legal victories unborn victims laws have enjoyed. Similar laws have yet to lose a court challenge.

In 1990, the Minnesota Supreme Court reached a similar conclusion and upheld the indictment of a man for killing a woman who was approximately one month pregnant.

California is one of twenety-nine states with an unborn victims law and President Bush, last week, signed a federal version into law.

While the federal law protect mothers and their unborn children throughout pregnancy, the California law offers protection to children before birth only after eight weeks into the pregnancy.

The California law, first passed in 1970, was adopted after a man beat his estranged wife and killed her baby before birth. At the time, California did not recognize the baby as a separate victim.

The decision upholds the British common law legal doctrine known as transferred intent that the United States adopted into its legal system when the country was founded.

That doctrine allows a criminal to be charged for killing or injuring someone even if his intent is to do harm to another party.

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The court’s decision –