Florida woman charged with murder sues state over wrongful imprisonment of her unborn baby

Florida woman Natalia Harrell, 24, who is being held in in a Miami Dade correctional facility, is arguing that her unborn child is being unlawfully held in custody. | Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center; Ultrasound Ireland: Medical, Pregnancy Scans, & IVF Fertility Scans Nov. 24, 2014

A pregnant woman being held in a Florida jail pending the outcome of a second-degree murder charge against her is arguing to be released, citing the wrongful detainment of her innocent unborn child in addition to the “dangerous” prison environment for the baby.

“The unborn child has not committed any crime, nor has the state of Florida, the respondents, or Miami Dade state attorney put forward any allegations that the unborn child committed a criminal offense,” a Feb. 17 court document arguing for Natalia Harrell’s and her unborn baby’s release says. 

“Yet, respondents continue to incarcerate [the] unborn child in such deplorable conditions at [Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center], depriving the unborn child of needed medical care and monitoring for the unborn child,” the document, filed by Harrell’s lawyer, William Norris, says.

The document lists the “respondents” as Miami Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Department and its director, James Reyes. The document arguing for Harrell’s release is a petition for habeas corpus, which, according to Cornell Law School, is used to challenge the legality of one’s imprisonment.

“Time is of the essence. Delay can mean serious harm or death to [the] unborn child,” the document says. 

Harrell, 24, was involved in an altercation inside an Uber vehicle in Miami on July 23, 2022, which resulted in the death of 28-year-old Gladys Yvette Borcela, according to the document. 

Police said that a video of the incident shows Harrell and Borcela in a verbal argument that turned physical, according to local10.com. According to the report, the video shows Harrell pulling a gun out of her purse and shooting Borcela once. Borcela died after being rushed to the hospital.

The court document says that Harrell, who was about eight months pregnant at the time of the court filing, was in early pregnancy during the time of the altercation. The document says that Harrell feared for her own life and the life of her unborn child during the altercation, which led to the shooting. She currently faces up to life in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000 if convicted.

According to the document, the holding facility hasn’t allowed Harrell and her baby to visit an OB-GYN since October 2022. 

“In fact, respondents have even failed to bring the prescribed vitamins and nutritional drinks to [the] unborn child’s mother, Ms. Harrell,” the document says. 

The document says that the unborn child is in an “inherently dangerous environment” being close to “violent criminal offenders” and that the baby is “unlawfully and illegally incarcerated on no criminal charges.”

Harrell is being held in a cell block with violent criminals, some of whom are there because they have broken prison rules and are being disciplined, the document says.

The baby has “eyes, arms, and hopefully developed all aspects of the human body and body functions,” the document says, adding that “it is a guess at this point whether [the] unborn child will enter the world in four weeks or three weeks or less.”

If the baby is not released from custody, the document says, the child will likely be “brought into this world on the concrete floor of the prison cell, without the aid of qualified medical physicians and paramedics, and in the presence of violent criminals.”

The document says the unborn child is defined as a person under article 1, section 9 of the Florida Constitution, and added that the Fifth, Eighth, and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution also provide personhood protections.

The document states that “the logical reading of the text of the 14th Amendment’s due process and equal protection clauses is that any person includes the entire universe of persons, including unborn persons.”

“Congress knew how to limit the class of persons to born persons when it intended to do so but instead used the most expansive language available when defining those entitled to due process and equal protection,” the document says, referring to the 14th Amendment.

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Reyes, the prison director, responded to the court filing arguing that Harrell has been offered the appropriate health care and has even refused medical treatment.

“Petitioner has been taken to at least four obstetrician appointments outside of the jail and, notably, refused to attend a fifth. Despite her refusal, Petitioner is currently scheduled for yet another outside obstetrician appointment in the near future,” Reyes wrote.

Reyes wrote that Harrell has received prenatal care inside the jail and will continue to. 

“As mentioned, and despite claims to the contrary in the petition, she has been receiving and/or has been offered additional nutrition on a daily basis since her August 2022 positive pregnancy test. Petitioner has been offered prenatal vitamins on a daily basis for months,” he said.

Reyes wrote that the unborn child has been monitored by nurses and medical providers as recently as Feb. 17. The child has shown “good fetal movement” and the baby’s heart rate has always “been found to be normal.”

Attorneys for the prison asked for the petition for habeas corpus to be dismissed. Harrell’s lawyer’s responded on Tuesday, doubling down on their argument. 

“The state and respondents are silent on the unborn child’s factual claim of that he is a ‘person’ as that term ‘person’ is used in Article 1, section 9 of the Florida Constitution and Fifth, Eighth, and 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution,” Harrell’s response says.

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