When California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger denied parole last week to a battered woman, he underscored a message from courts and prosecutors that mothers can be prosecuted for murder and imprisoned if they fail to prevent their children from being killed, reports USA Today. Linda Lee Smith, 52, has spent 24 years in prison in the murder of her 2-year-old daughter, Amy. She was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 15 years to life after she did not stop her boyfriend from fatally beating Amy. The prosecution argued that by not aggressively intervening, she condoned the violence.
Legal scholars and court cases suggest that during the past two decades, mothers increasingly have been blamed and prosecuted for not protecting their children from harm. That includes women who have been victims of domestic violence or who have used drugs while they were pregnant. “There’s the sense of a noose being tightened,” says Michelle Oberman, a Santa Clara University law professor and co-author of the book Mothers Who Kill Their Children. Responds prosecutor Wendy Macfarlane of Ventura County, Ca.: “If we’re not going to hold the mother accountable, then who’s going to be responsible for protecting that child?”