A legal petition seeks to free an 8-months-pregnant Florida inmate who says her fetus has received inadequate medical care while in custody.
The petition, filed Thursday in Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal, demands the release of the fetus from the Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Department because it has received limited prenatal care since Natalia Harrell's arrest.
Harrell, 24, is accused of fatally shooting a woman while they were in an Uber vehicle. She was charged with second-degree murder in August and has been ordered to be held without bond.
According to court records, Harrell pleaded not guilty Dec. 6. Her trial is scheduled for April 18.
Attorney William Norris, who filed the petition on behalf of the fetus after he was contacted by the father, said Tuesday that the "unborn child" is a person with constitutional rights.
“Once you define an unborn child as a person, then the unborn child acquires constitutional rights that apply to any person. And specifically, in this case, that’s the right not to be deprived of liberty without due process of the law. And in this case, the unborn child has received absolutely no due process at all,” he said. “The court should … let the mother go into an environment that protects the rights of the child.”
The filing says officials have failed or refused to take the unborn child to the attending OB-GYN physician at Jackson Hospital, saying the last visit the mother had was in October. The court filing also says Harrell has not received prescribed vitamins and nutritional drinks during her pregnancy.
It says that the "unborn child" is kept in a cell block or pod with violent criminals and that sometimes people are housed there after having been disciplined for fighting or breaking rules at the detention center.
A filing by the respondents — the Corrections and Rehabilitation Department and its director — argues that the petition should be dismissed because it is beyond the scope of when a subject should be released and says the mother and the unborn's child care are a priority.
“The State of Florida, however, does not take the allegations contained in the petition lightly and recognizes the importance and absolute necessity for a pregnant woman and her unborn child to receive adequate medical attention and treatment," the court document says. "The State communicated with all respondents on an emergency basis to ensure petitioner’s mother and unborn child's wellbeing."
A corrections department spokesperson said in an emailed statement Tuesday that the agency would not comment on an ongoing case but did speak in general terms about medical care for pregnant inmates.
“We are committed to ensuring all inmates receive professional, timely medical care and all appropriate treatment,” the statement said. “We are conducting a full review of the health services offered and received to ensure that all pre-natal care being provided in our custody is appropriate.”