California Supreme Court Upholds Unborn-Child Murder Conviction

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:04 PM EDT

( - The California Supreme Court Monday upheld the murder conviction of a man who fatally shot a pregnant woman, but argued that he did not know she was pregnant.

By a vote of 6-1, the court reinstated the conviction of Harold Taylor, who was convicted of two murder counts in the 1999 shooting deaths of Patty Fansler and her unborn baby. Fansler was 11-13 weeks pregnant.

A state appeals court had reversed the murder conviction for the unborn baby, saying the law did not apply to Taylor because he was not aware of the pregnancy.

But the state Supreme Court ruled Monday that it is not necessary for the state to prove an attacker knew of the existence of the unborn child, as long as the state proves criminal intent towards a victim.

"Had one of Fansler's other children died during defendant's assault, there would be no inquiry into whether defendant knew the child was present for implied malice murder liability to attach," Justice Janice Rogers Brown wrote for the majority.

"Similarly, there is no principled basis on which to require defendant to know Fansler was pregnant to justify an implied malice murder conviction as to her fetus. In battering and shooting Fansler, defendant acted with knowledge of the danger to and conscious disregard for life in general," she added.

"That is all that is required for implied malice murder. He did not need to be specifically aware how many potential victims his conscious disregard for life endangered," she concluded.

"This ruling makes clear that under California law, as under the federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act, if criminal intent towards one victim is proved, a criminal will be held responsible for the harm he does to other victims as well, including unborn children," said Douglas Johnson, legislative director for National Right to Life.

"This legal doctrine will serve to deter many attacks, including many attacks on women and girls who are not actually pregnant," Johnson added.

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