Tag Archives: attempted suicide

Rallying for a Plea Bargain

Update. Since posting this, I’ve been informed that the purpose of the Rally is to argue for dismissal of the charges–not a plea bargain. Bei Bei takes the (eminently reasonable) position that she should not be branded a felon. As one of the commenters has pointed out, this is the sort of case that does a real disservice to the cause of both criminal justice and mental health, by conflating the two. Did this young woman make a very bad decision? Yes. Did that decision harm both her and her unborn child? Yes. But those facts , without more, do not suffice to prove a crime. 

 

 

The case of Bei Bei–the young Asian woman who is being prosecuted for murdering her unborn baby–raises a number of questions.

The facts that are known are relatively simple: A young woman, pregnant and deserted by her lover, took rat poison in an apparent suicide attempt. She left a note for the faithless lover, saying she was killing herself and their child. She lived, but her baby died. The prosecutor charged her with murder, and refused to reconsider that charge even after an expert witness testified in a hearing that the still birth of the baby could not be proved to have been a result of the poison.

The case has become a high-profile cause for womens’ rights groups, who have (correctly, in my view) pointed out that a prosecution on these facts runs the risk of “criminalizing pregnancy,” and setting a dangerous precedent; it threatens to identify pregnant women as a separate and unequal class of citizen and to discourage pregnant women from seeking health care for depression or drug addiction.  They have held rallies in an effort to pressure the prosecutor into dropping the case, or at least plea bargaining for a lesser charge.

This Saturday, at the City Market at two, there will be another rally.

There are a lot of unanswered questions about this case, which has become a very high-profile debate about both the exercise of prosecutorial discretion and the propriety of conducting a criminal defense in the media.

I have a lot of respect for Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry, but–unless he knows something about the facts of this case that he has not revealed–I can’t understand his decision to spend public resources pursuing this case. The purpose of the criminal justice system is public safety. (I know that a good portion of the electorate prefers a different, more punitive approach–make the bad guys suffer!–but the Indiana Constitution sets a more measured goal.) This young woman presents no threat to the public. She is highly unlikely to be a repeat offender. She’s a troubled individual who made a very bad choice; is punishing that bad choice really where we want to spend our officials’ time and the public’s money?

It is unfortunate that this case has been so highly publicized; perhaps if the media had paid less attention to it, the prosecution would have felt more comfortable resolving it short of trial. But here we are. So the national organizations that have come to Bei Bei’s defense have announced Saturday’s rally, presumably in hopes of pressuring the prosecutor to reconsider. I think it is more likely that the additional publicity will simply harden his resolve, but I recognize the need to draw public attention to the policy question that is at the heart of this case: how should the prosecutor exercise his discretion?

What makes us safe?

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.