Although state laws in some instances define a fetus as a person if it dies in a violent crime, a homicide charge was not filed against a Fort Smith man who allegedly beat a woman so badly he caused her to deliver a baby that was found dead the next morning.
Ricardo Blair is charged with felony first-degree battery after he allegedly grabbed his ex-girlfriend tightly around the abdomen and slammed her over a dog kennel on April 28, causing her to go into labor at half term. The baby was found dead when she woke up the next morning after passing out, according to the probable cause affidavit.
The woman accused Blair of causing her to have a miscarriage. Doctors confirmed to police that this kind of abuse could have caused her to lose the baby, the affidavit states.
The circumstances of Blair’s battery charge are explicitly outlined in this statute, which states someone who assaults a pregnant woman in such a way that causes her to give birth may earn this charge. The statute does not include a scenario where the baby or fetus dies during the assault.
All Arkansas homicide statutes define a fetus as a person after 12 weeks of development. This definition makes Arkansas one of 38 states with fetal homicide laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The United States also has the 2004 Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which recognizes an embryo or fetus as a legal victim if killed in more than 60 federal violent crimes.
University of Arkansas at Little Rock law professor Robert Steinbuch, who worked as legal counsel on the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, said courts are "generally competent enough" to not be influenced by abortion laws in fetal homicide cases.
Steinbuch said a fetal homicide charge hinges on factors such as if the defendant was aware the plaintiff was pregnant or if the defendant was trying to affect the pregnancy. Blair told police he knew his ex-girlfriend was pregnant, the affidavit states.
"If a person was committing murder of a woman and knowing that she was pregnant and wanted to kill the fetus as well, that’s where that charge would be implicated," Steinbuch said.
These aspects, as well as if a prosecutor could reasonably prove the defendant killed the fetus, would factor into a homicide charge. Defendants in Arkansas can be charged with manslaughter if they accidentally kill someone while committing a felony or recklessly causing the death of another person.
Blair’s charge aligns with the Arkansas Supreme Court’s 1987 ruling in Meadows v. State, which at the time determined a fetus is not a person as defined in the state manslaughter charge. State Supreme Court justices in the Meadows case reversed a second manslaughter charge against the defendant who caused the death of a man and a fetus in a vehicle collision.
Sebastian County Prosecutor Daniel Shue declined to comment on the case because it is in litigation.
First-degree battery in Arkansas is a felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison. It has a higher classification than manslaughter, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison in Arkansas.
Blair was also charged with possession of a firearm by certain persons, a felony punishable by up to six years in prison.
Blair is being held in the Sebastian County Adult Detention Center in lieu of a $25,000 bond. He is set to appear in circuit court Oct. 2, according to arrest records.