Marshae Jones is facing a manslaughter charge for “intentionally causing the death of her fetus.” She was five months pregnant when she got into a fight last December with another woman outside a Dollar General store near Birmingham, Alabama. That other woman fired a gun in self-defense, according to authorities, and the shot ended Jones’s pregnancy. Because Jones started the fight a grand jury opted to indict her. Attorney Mark White is representing Marshae Jones. He spoke with NPR’s Audie Cornish.
Audie Cornish: First, can you tell us a little bit more about the charge against Miss Jones. How does the indictment say she is at fault?
Mark White The indictment charges under the Alabama Criminal Code the crime of manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. And the allegation, as it is contained in the indictment, is that she intentionally engaged in a physical altercation with this other person with the intent of having that result in the death of her child.
Audie Cornish: So essentially it sounds like your argument is to say that she did not intend for this to happen and therefore should not be prosecuted under this particular charge.
Mark White: The motion to dismiss is based on the fact that the indictment is totally flawed and that you can’t have a violation of the Alabama law under this factual scenario.
Audie Cornish: Just for some context for people, under Alabama state laws charges can be brought against a suspect in the death of another person, which specifically in the state does include a fetus. How does that play into the charges your client is facing?
Mark White: Well, this particular charge is under what I call our traditional manslaughter charge. When you look in the provisions in the code that we reference you will see that there is a specific exception that prohibits the mother from being charged with the loss of life of the unborn child.
Audie Cornish: And yet Alabama criminal code states that manslaughter charges are warranted even in deaths caused by recklessness. Essentially, the prosecutors are arguing this in a way, right? Entering into a fight while pregnant.
Mark White: Well it’s difficult to know what the prosecutors are arguing. There is a lot of confusion about their theory of the case, but the way that the indictment is framed and the best example I know to give is that if their theory of the case is correct then a pregnant woman who goes in a supermarket and creates what we call disorderly conduct and if she slips and falls and as a result has a miscarriage then under this theory she could be charged with manslaughter for the loss of the child.
Audie Cornish: So you’re saying this opens the door for all kinds of things to be deemed as reckless and therefore criminal.
Mark White: I’m saying it’s one of the scariest things I’ve seen in 45 years.
Audie Cornish: For many people, Marshae Jones is the image of her mug shot. Can you tell us how she is doing right now.
Mark White: Marshae Jones is, the word I use, fragile. If you were to meet her you would be talking with a very shy, timid, terrified young woman. We have had to take special arrangements to make sure her security is ensured. We have been fortunate that in this community and if there’s a good thing that comes out of this the support that have come from the community to help her and her family have a support system. This young woman lost the baby she was carrying. She was shot, almost mortally wounded. Her house shortly thereafter had a fire. She lost her house. Because of her medical condition and because of the length of her recovery, her employer terminated her. She has been subjected to more stress factors and more trauma than imaginable. And so presently we are trying to put together whatever resources she needs to where she can move forward in a positive and constructive way.
Audie Cornish: [That was] Mark White of the law firm White Arnold and Dowd in Birmingham. He represents Marshae Jones. A Jefferson County judge has set a hearing on the motion to dismiss the case against Marshae Jones for July 9th.