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.