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Marine Murder Investigation Highlights Disparity Between Federal and State Laws

For the past week, many in the public and the media have been galvanized by the ongoing investigation into the murders of U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Maria Lauterbach and her unborn child and the resulting manhunt for the primary suspect, Corporal Cesar Laurean, a fellow Marine who Lauterbach had accused of raping her. Corporal Lauterbach was eight months pregnant when she was killed.

Seemingly in every newscast, North Carolina and federal law enforcement officials continue to share emerging details of these horrific murders and the intensive search for Laurean. What has not been adequately addressed is the impact that this case is likely to have in the ongoing debate over laws protecting unborn victims of violence.

If Laurean is found and charged, he could face only one count of murder, going unpunished for the death of Corporal Lauterbach’s unborn child. The outcome is entirely dependent on whether the U.S. Marine Corps takes jurisdiction of the case or if the State of North Carolina does.

Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), Laurean could face murder charges for killing both Corporal Lauterbach and her child. This result is possible because, in April 2004, President Bush signed the federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act which, among other things, modified the UCMJ to provide for homicide prosecutions when an unborn child is killed. Conversely, North Carolina is one of only 14 states that do not recognize an unborn child as a potential victim of homicide.

Clearly, whether a suspect is tried for violently ending the life of an unborn child should not rest on the disparity between federal (military) and North Carolina law. The two should be compatible and North Carolina needs to take immediate action to remedy this injustice.