The apparent murder of Laci and Conner Peterson in California has resulted in many talk shows wondering if Scott Peterson can be charged for the murder of the unborn child, Conner. While that debate rages in the talk show sphere, what does Georgia have to say about feticide?
First, Georgia law specifically addresses the killing of a unborn child. O.C.G.A. § 16-5-80. Feticide - "(a) A person commits the offense of feticide if he willfully kills an unborn child so far developed as to be ordinarily called "quick" by any injury to the mother of such child, which would be murder if it resulted in the death of such mother."
So what is "quick"? In the case of State v. Newsome (1987), the victim was one of several people in a club during a robbery. She was shot in the abdomen and the child died, although the mother lived. The mother stated that she could feel the child moving within her prior to the shooting. The court held "Georgia case law adopted common law understanding of "quick", medical and lay testimony at trial indicated mother of unborn child in question was far enough along in pregnancy for fetus to be "quick", and mother herself testified that she had felt and recognized unborn child move in her prior to its destruction." It is not necessarily "viability" that is the determining issue, because viability is the point at which the baby can sustain life on it’s own. (Now that is curious too, because frankly a two-month old baby can’t sustain life on their own without parental care!)
What about abortion? Isn’t that feticide? The Court’s have said that is an entirely different situation, as the law looks to the privacy rights of the mother, not the viability of the infant.
Back to Conner Peterson. If he was killed after birth, clearly that is murder. If, on the other hand, he was killed "in utero", then under Georgia law that would be feticide. At almost full term, he was obviously "quickened" and even viable, if that was the standard. So Scott Peterson would be facing both a murder charge for Laci and a feticide charge for Conner. Feticide has a mandatory life in prison sentence that goes with it, so the penalty is the same as that of murder. Interestingly enough, Georgia’s feticide statute does not appear to carry the possibility of the death penalty. If the baby had been born, even for an instant, then the death penalty would be available.