Helping Someone Kill Themselves / Assisted Suicide (PC 401)
California Penal Code Section 401 states that individuals who deliberately aid, advise, or encourage another person to commit suicide are guilty of a felony.1Actions that constitute advising or encouraging a suicide include:
- Counseling another person to commit suicide, or
- Providing the other person with tools needed to commit the act, such as a weapon, poison, or “how-to” materials.
You can be charged and convicted of assisting in suicide even if the other person survives the suicide attempt.
Prosecution for Violating PC 401
A prosecutor attempting to prove that you assisted with a suicide must prove the following elements of the offense in order to charge you with this crime:
- You attempted or committed suicide; and
- You deliberately aided, advised, or encouraged the other person to commit suicide.
Defenses to Assisting in Suicide Charges
Your experienced criminal defense attorney can work to defend you by showing that the prosecutor cannot prove all the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. The defenses that your attorney may be able to use in your case include:
- No deliberate intent of the defendant – You may have unintentionally aided or encouraged a person to commit suicide, but you did not intend to do so.
- 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. However, that conversation could become a crime if during the talk you encourage the person to commit suicide or provide them tools in which to do so.
Sentencing for a PC 401 Conviction
If you are convicted of assisting in suicide, you face severe consequences. Under California Penal Code Section 401, assisting in suicide is a felony. If you are convicted of this crime, you could face imprisonment for 16 months, or two or three years in state prison.2 You could also face fines of up to $10,000.3
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) Regarding Assisted Suicide Laws
At Wallin & Klarich, we frequently receive questions regarding PC 401 laws. The following are some common questions and answers about assisted suicide in California:
- Do I have a defense if the person who attempted or committed suicide asked me for help?
No. Even if the other person asked you for help, this is not a defense to the crime and you could be found guilty.
- Is it a defense if the person who attempted or committed suicide was in great mental or physical pain, or had a chronic or fatal serious illness?
No, these are not defenses. It is unlawful to assist in suicide of another person regardless of the circumstances.
- Can I be charged if I tried to save the other person after they attempted or committed suicide?
Yes, you can be charged even if you took steps to save the other person, such as calling 911 or taking him or her to the hospital. You can be charged even if the other person survived the suicide attempt. However, whether you will be found guilty depends on the details of your case and the skills and knowledge of your attorney.
- Can I be charged with this crime if I advise a person how to kill him or herself over the Internet, even if I have never met the person who attempted or committed suicide?
Yes, you can be charged with this crime even if you have never had any direct or in-person contact with the other person.
What Wallin & Klarich Can Do For You
If you have been charged with assisting in suicide, call a Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney right away. Your attorney will look at the facts of the case and determine your defenses and potential liability. Our experienced criminal attorneys have successfully defended clients charged with serious felony offenses for over 40 years. We can help you today.
We have offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Tustin, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville. We are able to help you no matter where you work or live.
Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will be there when you call.
1. PC § 401.↩
2. PC § 18(a).↩
3. PC § 672.↩