On October 23, 2015, the New York Law Journal (Joel Stashenko) published the article “Woman’s Conviction for Conduct Affecting Fetus Is Dismissed” Arguably, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office should not have brought the case and this woman should not have been convicted of manslaughter for the death of her 6-day-old baby from in-utero injuries sustained in a car accident that she caused by being under the influence.
The conviction of Jennifer Jorgensen for a May 2008 accident in Suffolk County where authorities say her vehicle crossed the center line of a busy road and smashed head-on into an oncoming vehicle, killing its occupants. Jorgensen, who police said was incapacitated by alcohol and/or prescription medications, was 34 weeks pregnant at the time. Jorgenson, not wearing a seatbelt at the time, injured her unborn baby when she struck the steering column in the crash and was delivered by cesarian section.
“Thirteen months [after her child’s death], defendant [(Jorgensen)] was indicted on three counts of manslaughter in the second degree (Penal Law §125.15 ), one count of aggravated vehicular homicide (Penal Law §125.14), and one count of operating a motor vehicle while under the combined influence of alcohol or drugs (Vehicle & Traffic Law §1192 [4-a]). After the first jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict, the parties proceeded to a second trial on all counts.” People v. Jorgensen, No. 179, NYLJ 1202740469239, at *2 (Ct. of App., Decided October 22, 2015)
The issue the Court of Appeals reached “is whether a woman can be convicted of manslaughter for reckless conduct that she engaged in while pregnant that caused injury to the fetus in utero where the child was born alive but died as a result of that injury days later.” Jorgensen, at *3.
The Court made clear that “[t]he imposition of criminal liability upon pregnant women for acts committed against a fetus that is later born and subsequently dies as a result of injuries sustained while in utero should be clearly defined by the legislature, not the courts. It should also not be left to the whim of the prosecutor.” Jorgensen, at *7 The Court of Appeals held “that it is evident from the statutory scheme that the legislature, in enacting Penal Law §125.05 (1) and §125.15 (1), did not intend to hold pregnant women criminally responsible for conduct with respect to themselves and their unborn fetuses unless such conduct is done intentionally.” Jorgensen, at *3.
The Court of Appeals reversed the Second Department and dismissed the remaining indictment.
Dissenting, Justice Fahey indicated that “[w]here, as here, the baby-victim is born alive but subsequently dies, the Penal Law allows for the conviction of a defendant-mother of manslaughter in the second degree where the acts causing the baby’s death occurred before that infant was born….” That seemed to be the difference here. If Jorgensen did not consent to having the C-Section, this probably would have never become an issue. Nonetheless, as the prosecutor argued it, J. Fahey addressed it.