Law, Order and Injustice

The criminal justice system is charged with protecting society from those who pose a threat to the public order. Too often, unfortunately, those in charge forget that basic purpose, and the result is anything but just.

The local case of Bei Bei Shai is a horrifying example.

The facts are simple: Bei Bei, a Chinese immigrant, was a pregnant woman with no criminal history. She found herself abandoned and shamed by the father of their expected child. Desperate, she attempted to commit suicide; she left a letter for the man who had deserted her, ate rat poison, and waited to die.  Friends found her, and got her to a hospital where she received medical treatment; doctors believed that the baby would survive if she had caesarean surgery, but the newborn died in her arms, sending her into yet another prolonged depressive episode.

If this wasn’t tragic enough, the Marion County prosecutor charged Bei Bei with murder and attempted feticide. She spent 435 days in the Marion County Jail until her lawyers were able to get her released to home detention pending her murder trial.

The case has received world-wide publicity; most of the details can be found in this recent article from the Guardian.

Bei Bei’s legal team, headed up by well-known criminal lawyer Linda Pence, has been unable to persuade Terry Curry, the Marion County Prosecutor, to drop the murder charge. He insists that the suicide note–which said something to the effect that “I am killing myself and our baby”–shows Bei Bei’s criminal intent to murder her unborn child, and he is insistent that she be prosecuted for that murder.

The policy consequences of criminalizing women’s behavior during pregnancy are obvious. Can the State charge a woman with reckless endangerment if she smokes while expecting? If she drinks? Where do we draw the line?

Those issues have been raised by the 80+ women’s rights groups that have filed amicus briefs in this case. They are important issues, and deserve attention, but I have an even more basic question: How does prosecuting a distraught young woman who tried to kill herself advance public safety? How can the prosecutor defend the use of tax dollars–and capital cases are very expensive–to try a young woman who poses no threat to society?

How does this prosecution serve the purposes of justice?

Bei Bei’s lawyers have done a great deal of unpaid work, but they will need funds to adequately defend her against these charges. They are scrambling to raise those funds, and people wishing to contribute to Bei Bei’s defense should send checks, payable to Shuai Defense Fund,   to 135 N. Penn. St., #1600, Indpls in. 46204.

Meanwhile, if you see Terry Curry, you might ask him what in the world he’s thinking.


  1. America is all about Law, not about Justice.

    If there was any Justice in the legal system, Ponzi operators, slimy politicians, hedge fund managers and other apparently conscience-free persons would be breaking rocks in prison, or working on a chain gang this very minute.

    Are they? Will they ever? I doubt it.

  2. This case is also about publicity, another chapter in the “war on women” and probably racial profiling. Justice has been long gone from the criminal and civil justice systems in too many cases. Bei Bei is another victim of our court system.

  3. This is not a capital murder case, so cost of capital litigation is not an issue. The facts present a difficult prosecutorial decision in light of the legislature’s amendment to the murder statute that specifically includes intent to kill a viable fetus. When the current criminal code was enacted in the 1977, the murder statute only included human beings as victims of murder – a person who was born and is alive -then the law got entangled with the feticide issue. (In the interest of bias disclosure, I was a part of a group who wrote the 1977 code, so I favor the old version.) While prosecutors do have the discretion to charge or not charge in a given case, it’s hard to make a case that the facts here do not fit the murder statute as currently drafted. I would put the wisdom of this case on the backs of the legislators who voted to amend the murder statute. As a former deputy prosecutor, former defense lawyer – former almost everything – I am always concerned to hear a prosecutor say that she won’t enforce a law that the legisture has enacted. Prosecutorial veto is not how we should implement – or not implement- our laws.

    I will definitely contribute to Ms. Shuai’s defense fund, but I will also contribute to Terry Curry’s relection campaign should he decide to run for a second term.

  4. Question; I have wondered if this could be somehow legally construed as a form of late-term abortion which would be a lower charge. With all that has happened to Bei Bei; who can be sure she will not attempt suicide again. Even with people supporting her at this time, her feelings of guilt must be overwhelming when she needs inner strength more than ever in her life. Feelings of guilt would be normal for any young woman at this time. Mr. Small; you sound like the type of attorney I would want if I ever need one, thinking and feeling mixed with intelligence is a rare combination.

  5. Thank you Sheila.
    Great point point KurtL!
    JoAnn, I agree with you.

    Bob Small, I was going to give Curry a political contribution, instead I am going to give it to the “SDF”. I’m sorry, but (trying to) committing suicide is not rational. Trying to commit suicide is mental illness, and Curry should know this. What other means will he use to get votes?

  6. Good grief, this story breaks my heart. Another story about Indiana’s shame. First the 4 yr old singing homophobic messages in a CHURCH and a distraught immigrant who was temporarily insane and charged with Murder. Wow.

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