University of Miami Race & Social Justice Law Review


Allison Dopazo

Document Type



Children are often regarded as the most sacred beings in all of society—appealing to our collective sense of human dignity and protecting the most vulnerable. Mothers fiercely protecting their young children from perceived dangers is ostensibly a natural and moral response. This notion of the loving mother is in stark contrast to filicide, or the act of a parent murdering their child. It is a bedrock principle of the American criminal-justice system that a defendant is not responsible for their actions if the defendant was “laboring under such a defect of reason, from a disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing or, if he did know it, that he did not know what he was doing was wrong.”1 Given the bleak reality of filicide, how should American criminal law treat mothers who commit the heinous crime of killing their child when the mother was suffering from a postpartum disorder at the time of the crime? This essay will detail women’s lived experiences of postpartum disorders, describe the current American criminal law approach to defendants who are mentally ill, and propose changes to American criminal procedure to reflect postpartum disorders’ effect on a mother’s mental state.