11 June 2008

Another Harsh Sentence For A Neonatal Death

A Lakewood, Colorado mother who gave birth in a toilet, alone, then failed to rescue the baby before the baby died, will plead guilty to a crime carrying a ten to twenty-five year prison term plus a five year parole term, after a hung jury left her facing another trial. If the jury had convicted her, she could have faced decades more in prison.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. The punishment does not fit the crime in these cases. This woman clearly has problems. She has also pleaded guilty to a unlawful use of methamphetamines. But it makes no sense for the people of Colorado to spend something on the order of $350,000-$800,000 to keep her behind bars for ten to twenty-five years. Long prison terms, which are also very expensive to the public, should be for those who pose a threat to the public if they are at large, not women who freak out in the immediate aftermath of a birth in a way that causes death.

It is one thing when someone who has not just been through labor affirmatively acts to cause a child's death. The harsh punishments under Colorado law for child abuse causing death or serious injury were designed to target parents in an ordinary state of mind who maliciously abuse their children, not the post-partem women who have faced the harshest consequences of this law.

Leniency to mothers in these situations is in order. Conviction for some crime and some punishment is appropriate. The crime of neglect of a newborn by a post-partem mother causing death ought to be comparable in criminal seriousness to careless driving causing death (the least culpable criminal homicide offense in Colorado). But the crime these women commit is not at the same level of culpability as violent crimes with similarly harsh sentences like aggravated murder and kidnapping.

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