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South Florida pregnant inmate seeks release, says unborn baby is innocent of crimes

Natalia Harrell, 24, says the jail staff has endangered her unborn child by refusing proper prenatal care.
Credit: Miami-Dade County Corrections and Rehabilitation
Natalia Harrell, 24.

MIAMI — A pregnant inmate in Miami is alleging that her unborn child is being illegally detained and has not received the proper care, according to multiple reports.

Natalia Harrell, 24, has been in custody, without bond, at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center since July after she was accused of fatally shooting another woman, the Washington Post reported. 

At the time, Harrell was six weeks pregnant. Now, she is eight months and says the jail staff has endangered the fetus by refusing proper prenatal care. 

In the example explained in her emergency writ of habeas corpus submitted last week, she alleged that she was trapped in a corrections van without air condition while temperatures exceeded 100 degrees, and she hadn't seen an obstetrician-gynecologist since October.

The Miami Herald first reported that Harrell's attorney, William M. Norris, submitted the 24-page document last week, which allows the court to determine whether someone’s imprisonment is lawful. 

Norris argued that the fetus’ incarceration is a violation of his rights guaranteed by the U.S. and Florida constitutions.

“UNBORN CHILD has not been charged with any crime by the State,” the writ of habeas corpus said. ”Further, the State has placed the UNBORN CHILD in such inherently dangerous environment by placing the UNBORN CHILD in close proximity to violent criminal offenders.”

The Herald reported that the submitted documents argue that the unborn child should be released to receive the necessary care and treatment, to be free from "unlawful and illegal detention" and to avoid entering the world in a dangerous environment like a prison cell.

“An unborn child has rights independent of its mother, even though it’s still in the womb,” Norris told the Washington Post. “The unborn child has been deprived of due process of law in this incarceration. You simply have to have the unborn child as a factor in the equation.”

The Post explained that Norris' argument hinged on the idea that Harrell's unborn child is a person and the belief that a fetus is a person entitled to conditional protections. 

On Monday, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody's office filed a motion to dismiss Norris's petition, saying he didn't provide the necessary documents to support the allegations about inadequate medical treatment, according to the Post. 

A spokesperson for the Miami-Date County corrections rehabilitation told the Post they are "committed to ensuring all inmates receive professional, timely medical care and all appropriate treatment."

The habeas corpus petition argues that the detention center employees have failed to provide Harrell vitamins, liquids and nutritional food that physicians advised would assist her fetus’s development, the writ says.

On Tuesday, Norris filed a response to the state’s motion to dismiss the petition, reasserting that a fetus is a person and that it has no other legal relief because it is not charged with any crime and thus has no ongoing court cases under which to file claims.

Norris told the Post he’ll continue to fight for the fetus’s freedom.

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