What is a joke between two friends can be seen as something entirely different when taken out of context. This is true as well of conversations between friends in which there are no jokes, but rather advice given. For example, Michelle Carter, a woman in Massachusetts, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 2017 after sending text messages to her boyfriend that were seen as encouraging him to kill himself.
Her boyfriend did eventually kill himself but many question: Can texting someone “kill yourself” really be considered involuntary manslaughter? Can one person be held responsible for another person taking their words more seriously than they were intended? We will take a closer look to see what California law says about it. If you have been accused of any type of violent crime then we hope you will contact a criminal defense attorney by calling Law Offices of Patrick S. Aguirre at 800-572-1252 for help.
California Penal Code Section 401
The answers to these questions lie in California Penal Code Section 401: Assisting, Advising, or Encouraging a Suicide. This code makes it illegal for a person to aid, advise, or encourage a person to commit suicide. The code also requires that, in order for you to be convicted, the prosecution can prove that you helped someone commit suicide or that you advised and / or encouraged them to do so.
There are many things that can be used as evidence of this crime. The prosecution could look at your texts and emails with the deceased and listen to your voicemails. They can also talk to witnesses to see if they remember you making statements encouraging the person to commit suicide.
If convicted of this crime, the maximum penalty is three years in state prison and fines of as much as $10,000.
Defense options to a charge of assisting a suicide
Context is very important in these cases. If you are charged under this code, there are a number of defense options we can use. We may argue that you did not have any deliberate intent. The crime should not reach to cover people who made an offhand comment with no intention of the reader taking it seriously. As a result, if you did not have intent to cause harm then you should not be convicted.
We may work to show that the accusations against you are entirely false – you did not make any statements or otherwise encourage them at all. We may argue that the person who committed or attempted suicide did not actually intend to kill themselves and instead the incident was an accident.
Finally, we may argue the obvious: It is not against the law to discuss suicide. Talking to someone about suicide is not a crime. Unless you purposely encouraged them to commit suicide or provided advice that helped them accomplish their task, you should not be convicted.
This is a tricky situation and emotions often run high around these cases. We recommend that you contact a criminal defense attorney sooner rather than later. You can reach Law Offices of Patrick S. Aguirre at 800-572-1252 now for a free legal consultation.