Without context, jokes can take on a completely different meaning. To the wrong eyes, a conversation between two friends can appear to be angry, repulsive and downright mean-spirited. The same is true of conversations that are not jokes, but attempts to help persons stuck in difficult emotional or medical circumstances.
This was the case of Michelle Carter, a Massachusetts woman who was convicted in 2017 for texting her boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, messages that seemed to encourage him to kill himself. Roy eventually committed suicide, and Carter was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.
Can a text message saying “kill yourself” really lead to serious criminal consequences? To find the answers, let’s look to California Penal Code Section 401.
Assisting, Advising, or Encouraging a Suicide (PC 401)
California law makes it a crime for anyone to “deliberately aid, advise, or encourage another person to commit suicide.” To be convicted of this crime, the prosecution must prove that you either:
- Helped someone commit suicide, OR
- Advised or encouraged a person to commit suicide
Evidence that you encouraged someone to commit suicide can include your communication with that person, such as voicemails, emails and text messages. It can also include witness recollections of your statements to the person who committed suicide.
Examples of Assisting a Suicide
Suppose you have a friend who is dying of cancer. Your friend texts you that she wants to go out on her own terms. You write back, “Maybe you would be better off dead than suffering through this.”
Now, let’s say your ex-boyfriend repeatedly sends you unwanted texts. In response, you text him, “Why don’t you do me a favor and jump off a bridge?” Not realizing he was struggling with depression from the breakup, you are shocked to find that he ended his life after reading this text.
Based on the elements of the crime, either of these text messages could lead to criminal charges under PC 401. If convicted of encouraging a suicide, you could face up to three years in state prison and fines of up to $10,000.
Defenses to Assisting a Suicide Charges
Context means a lot in cases involving assisting a suicide. If you are charged under PC 401, some of the legal defenses available to you might rely on the context of your “assisting:”
- No deliberate intent of the defendant – If you did not intend to aid or encourage a person to commit suicide, you should not be convicted of this crime.
- No intent by the person who attempted or committed suicide – The person who attempted or committed suicide may not have actually intended to kill him or herself. The attempt or death may have been an accident.
- False Accusations – You were falsely accused by others.
- Discussing suicide is not a crime – Merely talking to someone who is considering suicide is not a crime. If you did not encourage a person to commit suicide or provide them tools in which to do so, you should not be convicted of this crime.
Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney at Wallin & Klarich Today
Losing a friend or loved one to suicide is difficult enough, but to then to be charged for a crime can be devastating. If you are facing charges for assisting a suicide, you should speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney at Wallin & Klarich. Our skilled criminal lawyers have more than 40 years of experience successfully defending clients facing serious criminal charges. Let us help you now.
With offices in Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Victorville, West Covina, Torrance, Los Angeles and San Diego, there is an experienced and skilled Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney available to help you no matter where you are located.
Contact our offices today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will get through this together.