In life, a person may feel overwhelmed and exhausted and think the best way out of their misery is committing suicide. This person may seek help from another to end their lives, which is a felony in California, according to PEN 401. The law prohibits a person from advising, aiding, or encouraging another to kill themselves. However, when the actions are in line with the law, according to the End of Life Act, they do not get prosecuted for it. For instance, if you buy your friend sleeping medications to aid them with suicide or inject them with a lethal drug for whatever reason, you are guilty of PEN 401 violation.
The penalties for this offense are stringent, requiring vigorous defense against a conviction. Having a criminal attorney on your side when faced with these allegations is critical. At Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we defend clients accused of criminal offenses with an excellent track record.
When Assisted Suicide Becomes a Crime
The best way to explain this is to establish the elements of the crime. When accused of the offense, a conviction is only possible when a prosecutor determines the aspects of the crime. These are:
- A committed or did try to commit suicide
- That you intentionally helped, encouraged or advised the person to commit suicide
For instance, your father discovers he has stage four cancer and has a short time to live. He prefers to end his life quickly and avoid the suffering and pain he is likely to undergo as a result. He asks you to help him commit suicide, and upon discussion, you agree to it as the best thing to do. You, therefore, proceed to get lethal drugs from drug stores and stay with your father while he swallows them. The drugs cause him to die eventually. In this case, you are guilty of violating PEN 401 in California.
Sometimes, you may help a person to kill themselves, but the attempt fails. In this case, you will not be guilty of PEN 401 violation, but you will be prosecuted on another offense for attempting to aid suicide. Several questions may, however, arise as a result of this law. These are:
- Whether it is an offense to commit suicide
- Mercy killing
- The Act on End of Life in California
- Is there a difference between aiding suicide and committing a murder?
Is Suicide a Criminal Offense?
The state of California does not make it a criminal offense to commit suicide. However, some situations can result in a person getting charged with a failed attempt at committing suicide. This happens according to the suicide pact. According to the law, a pact, in this case, is when:
- You get into an agreement with a person or persons to kill themselves and
- When one single method is used to cause death to various persons.
For instance, if you and your spouse decide to kill yourselves by driving over the edge or using carbon monoxide to poison yourself but fail.
In such a case, you may be accused of violating PEN 401 when you:
- Enter a pact to commit suicide and
- You survive, but the other party dies
When a person no longer wants to live, and you take away their lives, this is what mercy killing is. In most cases, the deed is accomplished when one administers vast amounts of painkillers to the victim. The state of California prohibits mercy killing, making it a crime punishable by law. This offense is commonly referred to as euthanasia, which is forbidden in all states of America.
End of Life Option Act
This is a legally acceptable way of ending a person’s life. According to this Act, a physician or doctor can aid a person to die. This law was adopted in 2016. According to the Act, a doctor can prescribe medications to end one’s life. It is important to note that only physicians are permitted by the law to prescribe the drugs. However, giving the medicines directly will mean committing the crime of euthanasia.
But, for a patient to qualify for this option, they must meet various conditions set out by the law according to the Act. These are:
- The patient has to be 18 years or older and a resident of California
- Based on the medical report, the patient must be suffering from an irreversible condition that would result in their death in six months
- The patient must have the ability to make independent medical decisions and request for assistance to obtain a drug for dying voluntarily
- The patient must have the ability to administer the medication by themselves.
Assisted Suicide Vs. Murder
When you get accused of encouraging or supporting suicide, the offense is different from that of murder. The difference is usually on whether you passively or actively took part in the crime. For instance, if you only offered to advise or encouraged the victim to commit suicide, your actions were passive. This means you will be guilty of PEN 401.
However, if you participated in committing the death, your role was then active, and you will get charged with murder.
Legal Defenses for PEN 401 Violations
The penalties when convicted are harsh and can alter your life with lasting consequences. Faced with these allegations, engaging a criminal attorney is critical in fighting them. Your attorney will evaluate the claims and the evidence produced. Additionally, he or she will interview the prosecutor’s witnesses to establish any loopholes in the case. Aside from establishing weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case, your attorney will also present a strong argument in support of your character. Some of the strategies or defenses your attorney will use include:
You Never Acted Deliberately
According to PEN 401, a person to be found guilty of this offense must have acted deliberately to assist, encourage, and advise another to carry out a suicide. Deliberately, in this case, means you intentionally aided the victim to carry out the Act. This means, when you did not have an intent, you can use this fact as a defense.
For instance, if the alleged victim engages you in a conversation on the various methods people commit suicide and how they do it, you are not guilty of the offense. An honest discussion of suicide is not a crime. Sometimes the person may have intentionally engaged you in the debate because they were carrying out research. If the person goes ahead and commits suicide using one of the methods you discussed, it does not mean you encouraged them.
Other times, you may have done research on suicide and published your findings or written a report on it. If a person reads the report and finds a way to commit suicide as a result, you cannot get charged with this offense. It is not a crime to read, research, or even direct a person to research on committing suicide. The prosecutor must establish that you knew the intentions of the alleged victim, and you did direct them into the method to use.
If this were not the case, your attorney would argue that your discussion on various ways to commit suicide does not translate to you encouraging or advising a person to commit suicide.
The End of Life Option Act Guided your Actions
Sometimes a doctor can face allegations of violating PEN 401. This may happen when the family of the patient is in dispute that their loved one wanted to end their life. The family may argue that the doctor persuaded their loved one to commit suicide or encouraged them to it.
Fortunately, according to the Act, a patient as long as they are over 18 and can administer the drug themselves and request for it, then it is not a crime. Your lawyer, with support of evidence, will show the patient’s age, what they were suffering from, and the doctor’s report. The report showing the patient has six or fewer months to live was in pain, and was in sound mind to request help in getting the drugs is crucial.
When your lawyer presents this evidence before the court, he or she may also introduce witnesses to your character. This will help to solidify your defense that you acted with care and would not prescribe drugs to end a life without following the right procedure.
Patients, in this case, are also made to sign a document absorbing the doctor from any blame. The document also indicates that they requested the drugs voluntarily. When all this is presented, the case against you may get terminated or dismissed.
There was No Suicide Attempt
One of the crucial elements to prove this offense is for the prosecutor to show that someone committed or attempted to commit suicide. Without this element, a guilty verdict cannot be arrived at. This means you can use this as a defense by claiming there was no attempt to commit suicide. For instance, if you showed a person how to commit suicide or provided the means to do it, as long as no suicide was committed, it is not an offense. For the crime to be complete, there must be evidence that the person did try to end their lives using the means you provided.
People accuse each other of many things falsely to gain an advantage over them or for revenge. For instance, someone may have heard you talk about suicide or knows you were close to the victim. When the victim commits suicide or attempts to, they may report you as the person that persuaded them to do it. Other times, when you are a therapist, a depressed person may come to you for counseling. They may confide in you that they experience suicidal thoughts, and you discuss them.
Unfortunately, when they go ahead and commit suicide, the family may falsely accuse you of triggering suicidal thoughts or encouraging them. This is especially so when someone misunderstands your advice. Fortunately, when you are a therapist, you can produce documents or recordings supporting your discussions with the patient. Your lawyer will use these documents to get you exonerated from the allegations.
Penalties for PEN 401 Violations
Allegations on this crime get prosecuted as a felony. A felony typically attracts steeper penalties compared to misdemeanor offenses. Some of the punishments you are likely to face if found guilty include:
- A three year jail time or less at the state prison
- A fine of not more than $10,000
- Formal probation instead of a prison sentence.
Other Repercussions of a Conviction
When a punishment or sentence is handed down, you will automatically have a record in your background. This means that any person that will run a background check on you will find that you are a convicted felon. Even when you have successfully served your sentence, the effects of a conviction are far-reaching. Some of these include:
- Loss of gun rights – the state of California forbids any person convicted of a felony from having or owning a gun. If you had a license to own a firearm, when convicted of this offense, you must surrender your firearms to the authorities. After completing your sentence, you will still not get your rights back because of your record.
- Right to vote – when convicted of a felony, during the time you serve your sentence, you will lose your right to vote. This is an important constitutional right that gets automatically lost with a felony conviction.
- Loss of a professional license – most of the professional boards issuing licenses to various professions will deny any applicant that has a record, a practicing license. Equally, when you already have a license to practice in your profession, and you get convicted of violating PEN 401, your license may be revoked. Application for renewal may also be denied.
- College admission – with a criminal record, it becomes increasingly challenging to secure college admission. Most institutions of higher learning run a background investigation on their applicants before admitting them. When a criminal conviction shows up in your record, you are likely to be denied entry to a college of your choice.
- Finding a job – getting or retaining a job becomes a challenge for any person with a criminal record. A potential employer will always run a background check on a person before offering them employment. When a potential employer finds that you have a criminal record, they become skeptical about offering you a job, and in most cases, they deny you the opportunity.
- Getting housing – this is another common challenge faced by individuals with a criminal record in their background. Most landlords stay away from leasing their property to individuals with a criminal conviction in their past.
Expungement of your Record
When you have a criminal record, it is a matter of public knowledge. This means that any person that wants to check into your background, they will see your past conviction. This becomes challenging, as discussed above, with other aspects of your life.
Expunging your record is the process of deleting the conviction from the public eye or scrutiny. When your record gets deleted, it means the public has no access to it. It, therefore, becomes more natural to secure employment or even get housing, among other things.
You can, however, only get your record expunged after successful completion of your sentence. After completing your sentence, you can petition the court through your lawyer to have your record expunged. An expungement hearing date is set, and your lawyer comes to argue your case. The prosecutor is also given a chance to challenge your petition before the judge. After listening to both sides and evaluating your report, the judge will decide to delete your record or not.
Related Offenses to PEN 401 Violations
When an offense is similar to another, it means it can get charged alongside or instead of the other. In the case of assisted suicide crime, there are three closely related offenses. These are:
PEN 187 – Murder
Based on this statute, it is a crime to:
- Kill another human being or fetus and
- You do that with malicious aforethought
Malicious aforethought refers to when a killer acts in total disregard of the life of others.
PEN 664/187 Attempted Murder
Under this statute, it is a criminal offense to attempt to kill a person. The crime is committed when:
- A person plans or intends to kill another and
- Makes a direct intention to kill the person but
- Fortunately, the intended person fails to die
This statute is different but related to that of PEN 401. However, you will not get charged with this offense if you:
- Helped a person commit suicide and
- He or she failed to commit it
When this happens, you will get charged with PEN 401 violations instead.
PEN 192 – Voluntary Manslaughter
This is another offense closely related to PEN 401 assisted suicide. The law defines voluntary manslaughter as when a person kills another:
- Unexpectedly during an abrupt quarrel
- When they believe they needed to defend themselves against the victim unreasonably
- When faced with passionate emotions
Voluntary manslaughter is not always used as a first offense. Prosecutors typically will charge a person with murder, but this offense is used as a plea bargain or where the accused admits to the crime.
Find a Criminal Lawyer Near Me
When allegations of assisting another person to commit suicide are leveled against you, a conviction distorts your life and comes with lasting consequences. Fighting against a sentence is critical to having your life as it was before. An experienced criminal attorney can come up with various defense strategies suitable in your defense and have a favorable outcome. At Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we are skilled in offering an excellent defense to persons accused of this crime. Call us at 424-333-0943, and we shall discuss your case as we prepare the best defense possible.