Suicide isn’t an easy topic to talk about for most people, but it’s also subject to a number of myths when it comes to the law. For example, while most people think it is a crime to kill yourself, lawyer Peter Liss says that suicide is legal in California. What is a crime though is helping someone else commit suicide or encouraging someone to kill themselves and, in fact, doing so could leave you behind bars for a long time.
I Thought Assisted Suicide is Legal in California?
Yes, assisted suicide is legal. In California the right-to-die law went into effect in 2016 allowing terminally ill patients to seek aid in killing themselves. But this law only covers a slim number of suicides in California as the patient must be terminally ill (their disease must be expected to result in death within six months), still in full control of his or her faculties and still be able to take the medication on his or her own. The only form of assistance someone can give is that a doctor may give the patient medication, but the doctor cannot actually administer it and there must be another doctor to approve the decision and two witnesses must be present at the time of the suicide and at least one of the witnesses cannot be a family member. In other words, most people who help someone kill themselves in California are not going to be protected under the state’s death with dignity law. Additionally, the law expires in ten years if not renewed, so it might not even affect people that long.
Penalties for Assisting or Encouraging Suicide
If you have been accused of aiding or encouraging someone to commit suicide, you can be face up to three years imprisonment. If the person failed to die, you can still be charged with attempting to aid someone in suicide, which means you can face half of that sentence. It’s also worth noting that it’s only “suicide” if the person who wants to die actually is the one to take or attempt to take their own life. If you are actually the one who killed, or attempted to kill, the victim, even if he or she begged you to do so, you can be charged with murder instead. There can be a fine line in suicide cases, but essentially, if you provided the tools or helped the person plan their suicide, you can be charged with aiding a suicide. If you actually gave the person the drugs or helped slice a knife or pull a trigger, then you technically murdered them.
“Encouraging” suicide can be an even more difficult charge to define. Obviously if someone playing a multiplayer game online tells someone to “go kill yourself,” they are just practicing their First Amendment right to free speech. But if a wife tells her terminally ill husband that she thinks he might be better off ending his life rather than suffering for the next few years, she could be considered to be encouraging suicide. To make matters more complex, if someone kills themselves because of you, you can go to jail for involuntary manslaughter if the prosecutors believe you actually acted recklessly enough by driving someone to suicide. If you have been accused of encouraging someone to kill themselves, it is critical you talk with an attorney before speaking with police or you may say something that could hurt your defense.
Consequences of Attempting Suicide
As for the victim, while suicide is legal in California, it’s worth noting that you can be forcefully committed to a behavioral health facility if it is determined that you are a threat to yourself or others. Also, while you cannot be charged for failing to commit suicide since the act is not a crime, you can be charged with a crime if your attempt to end your life broke other laws. In fact, one woman was even charged with murder when she drove down the freeway the wrong way and killed someone else.
As you can see, there are still a lot of ways you can face charges for helping or even suggesting someone commit suicide even if actually committing suicide is legal in California. If you have been accused of any crime related to your own or someone else’s suicide attempt, schedule a free consultation with Peter Liss by calling (760) 643-4050 or (858) 486-3024.
Image by Scott Rodgerson