Elizabeth Holmes trial pushed to August following surprise pregnancy announcement

Key Points
  • Prosecutors said they were "frustrated" to learn recently that Holmes is due to give birth in July.
  • A federal judge postponed her criminal fraud trial to Aug. 31 due to the unexpected pregnancy.
  • If convicted, Holmes could be sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Elizabeth Holmes, founder and former CEO of Theranos, arrives for motion hearing on Monday, November 4, 2019, at the U.S. District Court House inside Robert F. Peckham Federal Building in San Jose, California.
Yichuan Cao | NurPhoto | Getty Images

Elizabeth Holmes on Wednesday got a six-week delay to the start of her trial as the government said it was blindsided by news that she was pregnant and expecting to give birth in July.

The trial will now start on Aug. 31.

Holmes appeared via a Zoom call Wednesday in which Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Leach said prosecutors were told about Holmes' pregnancy on March 2, adding "it's frustrating and disappointing to learn about this now."

Holmes, the former CEO of Theranos, would have been about five months pregnant at that time.

Despite the repeated delays in the trial, defense attorney Kevin Downey said Holmes is "eager to contest the charges. Based on the medical advice that we've gotten setting this schedule at a pace that would be faster than six weeks post-birth would be aggressive and not recommended."

The unexpected news is leading some legal experts to question if being a new mother will help sway a jury in Holmes' favor.

"Whether conscious or unconscious, judges, prosecutors, and jurors might worry about the effect of maternal incarceration on a newborn baby in a way that they don't when the defendant is male," said Danny Cevallos, NBC news legal analyst.

"Being a new mother can only help get her sympathy from jurors," he said.

Holmes is facing a dozen felony fraud charges over her defunct Silicon-Valley start-up. She founded Theranos and promised to revolutionize health care as a 19-year-old Stanford dropout. Theranos was once valued at $9 billion and had a star-studded board before a Wall Street Journal investigation in 2018 exposed the unproven technology.

"If convicted, even if her sentencing guidelines call for incarceration, her attorneys will place her motherhood front and central before the judge," said Cevallos.

A research study by Sonja Starr, criminal law professor at the University of Chicago, shows that statistically a female is less likely to be convicted and less likely to receive a longer sentence than a male.

Her findings show "dramatic unexplained gender gaps in federal criminal cases. Conditional on arrest offense, criminal history, and other pre-charge observables, men receive 63 percent longer sentences on average than women do. Women are also significantly likelier to avoid charges and convictions, and twice as likely to avoid incarceration if convicted."

Her study further states, "mentioning childcare reduced judges' probability of recommending prison."

"In short, the family status-gender interaction appears to be more substantial than the one formal legal mechanism for accommodating family hardship can explain."

As questions are raised whether being a new mom will help her with the jury, former associates of Holmes told CNBC they were not surprised by news of her pregnancy. Holmes had been dating hotel heir Billy Evans, however the identity of the father is unknown.

If convicted, Holmes could be sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Elizabeth Holmes denies destroying evidence, argues prosecutors lost data
Elizabeth Holmes denies destroying evidence, argues prosecutors lost data