The Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog

Juana Valencia, Accused of Murdering Her Newborn, Headed for Second Trial

On December 22, 2009, Juana Perez Valencia, 21, of Anaheim, did something that most of us would consider unthinkable: she threw her newborn child in the dumpster. According to the Los Angeles Times, the child was born full-term, weighed 6.3 pounds at birth, and was found in a plastic bag in a dumpster behind Sombrero’s restaurant in Stanton, where Valencia was employed as a server.

Valencia already stood trial for the murder of her child once, but it ended in a hung jury and a mistrial, reports the Orange County Register. The main issue at trial was whether the child suffocated during childbirth or whether she suffocated the infant afterwards. Her attorney argued that the death was an accident borne out of inexperience and naivetĂ©. Valencia was a 19-year-old junior in high school at the time, and hadn’t finished high school back in Mexico due to poverty.

A hung jury occurs when the jurors cannot agree on a verdict. The result of a hung jury is a mistrial, which means the defendant can be retried on the same or different charges. It is essentially a do-over.

According to the Register, the jurors split the verdict on each count. For first-degree murder, the votes were 10-2 in favor of acquittal. For second-degree murder, the votes were 7-5 in favor of a conviction. For assault, the votes were 6-6.

The do-over starts this week. Jury selection was completed back in July. The first-degree murder charges have since been dropped. If convicted of the second-degree charge, she faces a sentence of fifteen years to life.

One also wonders if involuntary manslaughter should be added to the list of charges. Even if her defense attorney is correct, and the child died during delivery due to the defendant's inexperience, that would still probably amount to criminal negligence. She gave birth to a child in the back of a restaurant "without due caution and circumspection." Essentially, she acted with less care than the reasonable mother would have, and as a foreseeable result, her child died.

This is the same charge that Michael Jackson's doctor faced. It carries a penalty of up to four years in prison. The danger of adding this to the case is that the jury might choose, based on sympathy or emotion, to convict her on this instead of second degree murder. She'd then be serving four years instead of a possible life sentence.

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