Professors take up woman’s appeal of feticide conviction

Purvi Patel
Purvi Patel is taken into custody after being sentenced to 20 years in prison for feticide and neglect of a dependent on Monday, March 30, 2015, at the St. Joseph County Courthouse in South Bend, Ind. Patel was found guilty in February of neglect of a baby whose body was found two years ago in a trash bin behind her family's restaurant in Mishawaka. (AP Photo/South Bend Tribune, Robert Franklin)

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Law professors said they will defend, at no cost, an Indiana woman seeking to overturn her conviction in the death of her premature infant.

Purvi Patel, 33, of Granger was sentenced to 20 years in prison in March. Prosecutors said she took drugs from China to end her pregnancy rather go through a medical abortion.

Authorities claimed Patel gave birth prematurely, threw her baby in the trash and lied to hospital staff. She was convicted on charges of neglect of a baby and feticide. Her defense attorney said prosecutors never proved she took drugs to end the pregnancy.

National Advocates for Pregnant Woman says Patel’s case was the first time a woman in the U.S. was convicted and sentenced for trying to end her pregnancy. The group’s executive director, Lynn M. Patrow, has said feticide laws were meant to be used if a woman’s fetus was killed by someone else.

The South Bend Tribune reports the professors who said they will defend Patel are Indiana University’s Joel Schumm and Stanford University’s Lawrence Marshall. Schumm started an appellate clinic at IU’s law school, while Marshall co-founded the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University.

Marshall said he was troubled by the application of Indiana’s feticide law, and that Patel’s case may be a “textbook example” of emotions interfering with interpretation of laws.

“There are issues here. There are errors here that were committed, that in our view justify and compel reversal,” Marshall said. “We will be hopefully showing the appellate court that errors were committed in both interpreting the law and how facts were allowed to be proven.”

Schumm said he is not taking the case with a “political agenda,” but rather because he had an interest in raising legal arguments for Patel. Since 2001, he said he has worked on about 150 appeals.

“I’m taking it with the view that she’s been convicted of a serious crime and she, like everyone else, deserves a defense of those convictions, a zealous defense,” Schumm said.

Marshall is heading Patel’s defense team before the Indiana Court of Appeals, with Schumm acting as co-counsel.

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