MIAMI — An unborn child held at a Miami correctional center for eight months should be released, a plea filed in Florida’s Third District Court of Appeals states. The case could set a legal precedent as Florida navigates complex legal arguments following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization last summer.
PREGNANT AND INCARCERATED
Natalia Harrell, 24, an inmate at Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center, carries the unborn child. Harrell was arrested last July while six weeks pregnant and charged with second-degree murder.
Prosecutors argue that Harrell had an argument with another passenger en route to a Brickell hotel in a shared Uber. According to the police report, the argument escalated and video footage shows Harrell reaching into her purse, pulling out a small caliber gun, and firing a single shot.
But attorney William N. Norris told The Florida Standard that regardless of Harrell’s charges, the unborn child’s incarceration violates his rights guaranteed by the U.S. and Florida constitutions.
Norris said he took the case at the request of the unborn child’s father, who is concerned over conditions at the jail. In his emergency writ of habeas corpus – where the court determines whether someone’s imprisonment is lawful – Norris states that the “draconian confinement” harms Harrell’s unborn child.
“The last prenatal visit to the doctor was in October,” Norris tells The Florida Standard. The correctional facility told the court that the mother refused a visit in December. But Norris said that claim is unverifiable, and even if it were true, the facility still has not provided any care for the unborn child since October. “They simply stopped providing prenatal care,” said Norris.
Court documents also state that the unborn child has been the victim of negligence. In one instance, the mother was trapped in a transport van without air conditioning while temperatures exceeded 100 degrees.
Harrell is being held on state charges of murder, and the local correctional facility in Miami is only responsible for holding her until trial. But Norris says she’s been in jail for more than eight months, and the child inside her womb has gone through critical stages of development while the state courts have glossed over those details.
“The unborn child is not a party to the criminal case,” said Norris. “They have an obligation to the unborn child,” he added, speaking of the Miami correctional facility and the state of Florida. The case has not yet gone to trial. Norris underlines that the mother is still innocent until proven guilty.
“The state did not address the question of whether or not they are holding a person – in the unborn child – who is a person with individual rights to liberty. That’s the essence of our complaint that they are holding a person without due process,” Norris told The Florida Standard.
The unborn child, the complaint argues, should be released for necessary care and treatment, free from “unlawful and illegal detention” and avoid entering the world in a dangerous environment like a prison cell.
Last October, during the gubernatorial debate, Governor DeSantis said: “I think it’s better when everybody counts. I understand that not everybody is going to be born in perfect circumstances, but I’d like to see everybody have a shot,” he added.