Nashville Prosecutors Have Made Sterilization of Women Part of Plea Deals

Nashville’s district attorney recently banned his staff from using invasive surgery as a bargaining chip, after it became apparent that local attorneys had been using sterilization as part of plea bargains.

In the most recent case, a woman with a long history of mental illness was charged with neglect after her young baby died. Jasmine Randers, 26, suffers from paranoia and had fled from a Minnesota treatment facility where she was under state commitment. The district attorney refused to go forward with a plea unless she agreed to be sterilized. 

The cause of Randers’ baby’s death could not be determined. A cab driver who drove her to a hotel the night before she brought the baby to a hospital claims the baby was screaming, but stopped completely during the ride. Prosecutors speculated that the child could have suffocated in Randers’ coat during the cab ride, died as a result of unexplained infant death syndrome, or been accidentally crushed to death by Randers while she slept. According to an investigation by the Tennessean, the child was healthy and there were no signs of traumatic injury.

Nonetheless, Randers was hit with a neglect charge that carried a sentence of 15-25 years behind bars. The charge stemmed from the fact that no bottles of formula were found in the hotel; she took a taxi to the hospital instead of an ambulance; and the amount of time it took her to notify anyone about the baby’s death. The Tennessean report quotes Randers as saying, “I believe I was very sick and I, I guess, she was very sick, and I came here without a lot of money. And she ended up dying prior to the hospital where she was pronounced dead. Ever since then we've been trying to figure out how much I was responsible for that."

The case was picked up by the assistant district attorney Brian Holmgren and assistant public defender Mary Kathryn Harcombe. Holmgren wouldn’t accept a plea deal unless Randers had her tubes tied. Harcombe viewed the stipulation as coercive, so she went over his head to Davidson County district attorney Glenn Funk and explained the situation. Funk has now cracked down on the practice, saying, “I have let my office know that that is not an appropriate condition of a plea. It is now policy that sterilization will never be a condition of deal-making in the district attorney's office."

However, defense attorneys say the practice has been implemented at least three other times in recent years. This is not the first time Holmgren has attempted to use it. He has admitted to requesting it from a client who refused, thereby torpedoing her plea deal. According to an Associated Press story on the subject, Nashville defense attorney Carrie Searcy says Holmgren asked two of her clients to undergo the surgery.

The AP story also identifies cases from West Virginia and Virginia in which sterilization has been used to reduce prison time. The extent of the practice remains unknown.

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