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One Act, Two Charges: Florida’s New Law on Crime against Pregnant Women

A new law signed into effect in June 2014 will change a new facet of the criminal justice system. Governor Rick Scott signed into law “Florida Unborn Victims of Violence Act” which makes it a criminal offense to cause the death of, or bodily injury to, an unborn child during pregnancy. The bill was originally passed in the Florida House Judiciary Committee in March, and was passed by the Senate in April. The law will surely have significant implications on the abortion debate within Florida as a result.

The law, which had been put through and failed in the Florida Legislature on multiple occasions, finally made it through after a Tampa man was sentenced for 13 years in jail after tricking his pregnant girlfriend into ingesting an abortion pill in an attempt to cause a miscarriage.

Florida’s Previous Legislation on Injury to Unborn Children

The previous legislation, section 782.09, dictated the legal parameters when injury has been caused to an unborn child. Under this law, injury to the fetus was only relevant if it caused the same injury to the mother. For example, if the act killed the fetus, the criminal conviction would only be upheld if the mother was also killed. The previous Florida law only separately charges the defendant for the criminal offense to the fetus if the fetus could otherwise survive outside the womb. The new law, however, punishes any criminal act against the fetus at any stage of its development.

Advocates and Opponents of the Law

Advocates of the law state that the law is not an attempt to create a “personhood” bill that asserts that fetuses are persons in the eyes of the law, which therefore would be considered to be an “anti-abortion”. The advocates, however, state that the law is to further protect a vulnerable population from injury: pregnant women. Violence against women is already substantially high, but the advocates believe women who are pregnant are more at risk because of their pregnancy.

Advocates further state that the law does not criminalize nor interfere with acts committed by the pregnant mother or her decision to have an abortion. The opponents to the law, however, are skeptical, emphasizing the possibility of judges and juries who may decide to twist the law’s intended defendants and punish pregnant women for actions against their fetus. Opponents of the law believe that increasing the penalties for criminal offenses committed against the pregnant women would solve the problem – more so than criminalizing the act against the fetus.

The Parameters of the “Florida’s Unborn Victims of Violence Act”

 The new law applies the criminal offense that is committed against the pregnant woman to any injury to or death of the fetus. In other words, death or injury to the fetus is separately charged against the defendant. Other aspects of the law include:

  • The following are not required to be proven:

○     That the defendant knew that the woman was in fact pregnant; and/or

○     That the defendant intended the injury or death to the fetus.

  • The death penalty may not be imposed for crimes against fetuses.

Criminal Lawyer in Fort Lauderdale

 The new law will certainly have a substantial impact for defendants involved in offenses against pregnant women. It is important that defendants are given the opportunity to be heard and that they have an experienced criminal defense attorney by their side, especially when laws have changed and their interpretation is uncertain. Kevin J. Kulik will be able to provide you with all the necessary legal guidance and counsel to help you navigate your case. Contact the office of Kevin J. Kulik today for a free consultation.

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