In Indiana, ‘fetal homicide’ laws can add up to 20 years to manslaughter sentences 1 - Florida Independent

State Rep. Larry Ahern, R-St. Petersburg (Pic by Meredith Geddings, via myfloridahouse.gov)

As a “fetal homicide” bill makes it to the Florida Legislature, Indiana residents are seeing prison sentences extended up to 20 years for a similar law in their state.

Fetal homicide laws are currently on the books in 27 states; they are typically similar to a federal law that recognizes fetuses at all stages of development as victims. These laws are typically championed by anti-abortion advocates, and opposed by civil rights and reproductive rights advocates. Florida has recently introduced a piece legislation that would put a fetal homicide law in place here.

State Rep. Larry Ahern, R-St. Petersburg, and state Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, recently introduced the “Florida Unborn Victims of Violence Act,” at the request of the Florida Catholic Conference. State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey introduced the bill in the Senate.

The legislation, House Bill 137, amends state statutes to say that “vehicular homicide … is the killing of a human being, or the killing of an unborn child, by any injury to the mother, caused by the operation of a motor vehicle by another in a reckless manner likely to cause the death of, or great bodily harm to, another.” The offense would be considered a second-degree felony, and would not require that the person know the woman involved was pregnant.

RH Reality Check points out a case involving a man in Indiana this week who was sentenced to at least “45 years in prison for shooting his estranged wife during a custody hand-off.” Due to a fetal homicide law in the state, however, the man could face a prison stay of between 51 and 85 years because his wife was 12 weeks pregnant when he killed her.

According to the Journal Gazette:

A typical murder charge carries a sentence of 45 to 65 years in prison. By Indiana law, though, anyone who is convicted of murder in the killing of a pregnant woman is subject to six to 20 extra years of imprisonment if that killing also terminates the pregnancy.

James Voyles, White’s Indianapolis-based defense attorney, objected to the witnesses and argued that the state law, as written, is unconstitutional.

The law, which took effect in 2009 after a pregnant bank teller in Indianapolis lost her unborn children in a shooting during a robbery, does not require the perpetrator to know the victim is pregnant to be applied.

“It prevents an individual in that circumstance to have a reasonable defense,” Voyles told the jury Tuesday morning.

The proposed increase in prison time for certain crimes could also add a costs to the state. The cost of prisons was an issue this past session, as the Legislature sought to privatize prisons in order to cut costs.

Just yesterday, Senate President Mike Haridopolos defended the state’s  prison privatization to reporters, and said that that cutting the cost of prisons was a priority.

According to The Palm Beach Post, “the proposal requires that the privatization of 29 prisons in the region cost at least 7 percent less than what the state currently spends – an estimated $22 million annual savings”

Haridopolos said, “I think the policy’s a good policy. We’re going to face another massive budget shortfall this year. And we’re going to spend more money on prisons and if we do we’ll spend less on education and health care,” according to the Post. “I guess other people have other priorities. My priority is to spend less on prisons.”

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