Unborn baby homicide charges unlikely after Colorado voters reject statute

Dynel Lane is accused of attacking a pregnant woman and cutting the unborn baby from the victim's womb. (Police Photo)

LONGMONT, Colo. (MEDIA GENERAL) – It’s a tragic case. A 34-year-old woman is under arrest, accused of stabbing a pregnant woman in the stomach and removing her unborn baby from her womb. The mother had visited the suspect’s Colorado home to buy baby clothes advertised on Craigslist.

Homicide Charges Unlikely

The victim, 26, is expected to recover. However, she was seven months pregnant and the baby did not survive. Under Colorado law, homicide charges in the baby’s death are very unlikely.

“The issues involving an unborn child are complicated under Colorado law,” said Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett. “In most circumstances, if a child was not actually born alive, then homicide charges are not possible.”

Old Laws

Going back to the 17th Century, common law in England did not recognize a separate crime for killing an unborn child. As modern medicine improved, some laws changed. In Michigan, for example, a law was passed in 1846 that says if a person assaults a woman carrying a “quick child” and the assault results in the death of the fetus, the assaulter is guilty of manslaughter. That law is still on the books and used by prosecutors, according to Cooley Law Professor, Curt Benson.

Colorado has no such law. It does have a homicide statue that states a fetus must be born alive before a person can be found guilty of homicide.

Voters Decided Against Law Change

Just five months ago, Colorado voters turned down an opportunity to change that law. Amendment 67 would have redefined the definitions of “person” and “child” in the state’s constitution to include unborn fetuses. The amendment was backed by pro-life organizations.

The amendment was named the “Brady Amendment” because of a July 2012 drunk driving crash that killed a mother’s unborn child, Brady. Heather Surovik was eight-months-along before the crash.

Those against the law argued it would ban all abortions including for victims of rape and incest. Voters turned down the amendment in November 2014 by a vote of 64% to 36%.

Previous Cases Did Not Bring Homicide Charges

Surovik’s case and now Thursday’s tragic news are not the first high-profile instances in Colorado. An unborn child died in July 2012 amidst the highly publicized movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado. No charges were filed in that child’s death.

The suspect in the most recent Colorado case was arrested on suspicion of attempted first-degree murder, first-degree assault and child abuse-knowingly and recklessly resulting in death.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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