Speculation has already started over the type of defense her legal team might use.
CBS News Correspondent Seth Doane reports White, now 23, was kidnapped as a baby, and wanted one thing for her alleged abductor. She told reporters, "I just hope the officials will be able to get her in their hands."
Now, Pettway is in police hands and she's facing federal kidnapping charges in connection with White's 1987 abduction from a New York City hospital.
Back in 1987, Carlina White's mother recalled a suspicious person posing as a nurse.
Joy White told reporters at the time her daughter went missing, saying, "She was trying to get rid of me so she could take my baby away from me, but I didn't realize it."
Reportedly, Pettway was pregnant around that time, but had lost her baby. Authorities are trying to determine whether she replaced that baby with Carlina White.
While her biological family desperately searched for decades, Carlina White was renamed "Njedra Nance" and raised just 50 miles away in Bridgeport, Conn. That's where Pettway surrendered to police on Sunday, reportedly after she was recognized at a pawn shop. She was on probation, following a conviction for attempted embezzlement.
So what could be in store for Pettway?
She was slated to appear in federal court in Manhattan Monday morning to face federal kidnapping charges.
CBS News Legal Analyst Jack Ford said on "The Early Show" Monday the federal charges are serious.
He explained, "In the federal scheme of things, kidnapping is one of the top charges you can get. You know, interestingly, there was no federal kidnapping offense until after the Lindbergh kidnapping which took place back in the early '30s. At that time, actually authorities found themselves unable to handle that case the way they would have liked to. That was the genesis of kidnapping statutes. It's a significant crime in the federal scheme of things -- a range of 10 years to life in prison."
But, as "Early Show" co-anchor Chris Wragge noted, the jurisdictions in which the alleged crime occurred could come into play.
"It could," Ford said, but added, "I think what you're going to see happen is this: The child was kidnapped here in New York City. So New York might look at it, New York has some statute of limitations problems, the way theirs is set up. Statute of limitations basically means there's a time period within which you have to be prosecuted. Usually starts from the day of event. Simple illustration, an armed robbery takes place on the street, from that day and time, the statute it starts to run. The reason I think you'll see it in the federal system is the statute of limitations hasn't run. Because she was under 18 at the time and this was a continuing offense. I think although all of them have a piece of something, ultimately you're going to see the federal authorities here in New York City probably handle the prosecution."
Wragge asked, "You say this was a continuing offense, is that because she wasn't returned?"
"Yeah," Ford said. "If, in fact, she had been kidnapped and two years later got out and return, statute probably would have run, or at least would have been argumentative at that point in time. Because she didn't, and because she was a child, an infant when it all happened, it should not be a problem for the federal authorities."
What could a defense look like for Pettway?
Ford said it's "hard."
"If you look at just the facts on the surface, you say, 'How can there be a defense? She took somebody else's child.' There doesn't seem to be any real doubt about it, that she knew she was taking somebody else's child. There might be some facts we don't know about. If I'm her lawyer, the first thing I'm going to take a look at is what was her mental state at the time. We've seen some situations over the year, very sad stories where somebody either lost a child, there's some suggestion that she was pregnant and lost a child, or for whatever reason they were just driven to a state, a mental state that they weren't responsible for what they're doing, or as responsible. So I'm her lawyer, I want to take a good, hard look at what was going on in her mind at the time. Might it be enough to be an absolute defense, an insanity defense that's successful here? They're always hard to do. But it might be a mitigating factor. Because the range of sentencing is so large here, and could be as much as life in prison, if you're the defense lawyer you're looking for something here that you could argue."
As for Carlina White, her search has ended. White has told reporters that for as long as she could remember, she thought she didn't quite look like her so-called mother.
When she couldn't find her birth certificate, she became suspicious and started searching online for clues.
White was reunited with her biological parents just last week.
Joy White said of her daughter, "I just always believed that she would find me. That was something that I always believed in myself."
Now, Doane reported both Carlina White and her biological family believe they can make up for lost time by putting the past behind them.