Whereas assisted suicide is a highly controversial subject, and there are different opinions regarding its morality, encouraging, advising, or aiding someone to commit suicide is deemed an offense in California. You can face a prison sentence if convicted, even if the victim does not die after attempting suicide. Considering the severity of this crime, you want to contact a criminal defense lawyer as soon as you are accused.
At Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we are knowledgeable about the crime of aiding a suicide. We have helped several people overcome it and can do the same for you. We will help you mount a solid defense strategy that may result in the most favorable outcome, including a charge reduction or even a case dismissal. Call us right away for legal advice and representation.
The Elements of Aiding a Suicide
Any act concerning assisted suicide is tried under PC 401. The prosecution must prove these elements for the judge to find you guilty of this offense:
- Someone committed/attempted suicide.
- You deliberately advised, helped, or encouraged them to go ahead with the act.
Helping, advising, or encouraging suicide means counseling, persuading, or recommending an individual to take their life. It also means that you provided the individual with the required knowledge, lethal drug doses, tools, or carnal knowledge they will use to take their life.
We have situations where a person assists another in committing suicide, yet the eventual attempt is unsuccessful. When this happens, the helping party cannot be convicted under 401 PC. Instead, they will face prosecution under PC 664, the state's law on attempted crimes. This means the charges they will face will be attempting to help someone commit suicide.
Most people also usually ask questions under this law regarding:
- Whether suicide is a criminal offense.
- Mercy killings.
- Whether murder and aiding a person with suicide differ.
- The End of Life Option Act.
Is Suicide in Itself a Violation of California Law?
Committing suicide does not qualify as an offense in California. Although, there are cases when someone is prosecuted under this law in an unsuccessful attempt to commit suicide. This can occur in the context of a suicide pact. That is when more than one person agrees to end their life, and there exists only one way to die for all the parties. For example,
- Jerry, Tim, and Alexa poison themselves to death with carbon monoxide.
- John and Peter end their lives by driving their vehicle over a cliff.
In the context of the above cases, you are guilty of aiding a suicide if you enter a suicide pact with someone and you survive while the person you made the pact with passes away.
Mercy killing, also called euthanasia, refers to taking a person's life who does not wish to continue living anymore. This act is mostly done by administering significant doses of sleeping pills or painkilling drugs. In California, it is against the law to perpetrate mercy killing. The conduct is also criminalized in all other states.
The End of Life Option Act
The End of Life Option Act is the state's doctor-assisted dying statute. The law is also referred to as ‘Physician-assisted Suicide,’ ‘Right to Die,’ or ‘Death with Dignity,’ and it was enacted in 2016 once the former Governor of California, Jerry Brown, signed it into law.
Under this Act, a patient who is a California resident can request, and doctors can prescribe drugs that can end life. The patient who requests these medications must:
- Have below six months of life due to having a terminal illness.
- Be sane.
- Have been a California state resident for at least eighteen years.
- Be capable of taking the medication themself.
It is worth emphasizing that the End of Life Option Act authorizes doctors to prescribe life-ending medications only to patients suffering from terminal illnesses.
Aiding a Suicide versus Murder
Encouraging or aiding a suicide differs from a murder crime. What differentiates the two crimes is whether the accused took a passive or active role in perpetrating the violation.
For example, if you simply provided the suicidal ways an individual can die, it is deemed a passive contribution, and you are guilty under 401 PC. But if you took part in causing a person's demise, it is considered an active contribution; thus, you will be convicted of murder.
Investigations for Assisted Suicide Cases
The authorities' primary tools in investigating assisted suicide cases are interrogations, interviews, and gathering physical evidence. The following is the basic procedure investigators will follow in investigating the allegations of assisted suicide against you.
Investigating the Crime Scene
Since claiming that someone assisted another in committing suicide is a passive action, investigators may consider probing the crime scene to gather relevant evidence. They will collect the evidence by interviewing every potential witness at the crime scene, gathering forensic evidence, and taking photos. The investigators may also generally observe the scene, checking for any link to the offense.
By interviewing eyewitnesses, investigators will try to verify different facts of your case. They will try to figure out what transpired and whether or not you are the culprit. Usually, they will interview all the witnesses to obtain their account of events. After the interview, the investigators will document these statements and avail them to the prosecutor.
Forensic and Physical Evidence
The investigators will also collect physical evidence at the crime scene. This includes photos, fingerprints, blood samples, and measurements associating you with the offense. The team will wear gloves while gathering the evidence to ensure it is not contaminated. The evidence is then stored securely in marked bags for easy identification. This will assist in maintaining a chain of custody for each type of evidence to make the entire investigation process easy.
The most effective tool that investigators use is interrogation. Interrogation aims to obtain a confession from crime suspects. Forensic evidence may be useful in establishing whether or not you are criminally liable, but it is quite time-consuming and expensive compared to custodial interrogations. Interrogations are cheaper and faster, which reduces the expenses and time used in the entire process.
The detectives or police officers who conduct interrogations are professionals with skills in studying body language and human conduct to tell whether or not a suspect is telling the truth. They also know how to ask the right questions to make you confess.
Defending Against PC 401 Violation Charges
Criminal defense attorneys apply several legal defense strategies in arguing against charges under PC 401. The defenses your lawyer can argue are:
It is not unusual for the family members of the victim who committed suicide to accuse former or current therapists or friends of triggering their loved one into committing suicide or aiding them to die. In cases like this, irrefutable evidence would include letters, text messages, voicemails, therapist notes, or eyewitness testimony to show you are not guilty of violating 401 PC. When someone confides in you about their thoughts of committing suicide, you are not automatically guilty just because you could have been aware the individual planned to take their life or was depressed.
You Encouraged the Victim to Take Their Life, though They Did Not Make the Suicide Attempt
The prosecution must show that the victim committed or attempted suicide to prove criminal liability under this law. Thus, your lawyer can argue that the victim did not attempt or commit suicide. For example, it could be that you furnished the victim with the different ways of committing suicide, but they decided against killing themself.
Your Actions Are Protected Under the Law
Sometimes, healthcare providers are prosecuted under PC 401 for prescribing patients drugs that end lives. However, remember the End of Life Option Act legalizes prescribing life-ending medicines to patients. Thus, you can argue this statute as a legal defense if you are a healthcare provider. Medical records showing the patient satisfied all the conditions should exonerate you from criminal responsibility.
You Did Not Deliberately Aid or Encourage the Suicide
Under Penal Code 401, it is only a crime if a person deliberately aids, advises, or encourages another one to take their life. Deliberately means with the specific intent to do an act. As a valid defense, your lawyer can say that you did not specifically intend to aid suicide. Simply talking to a person regarding suicide or generally discussing the various possible ways to commit suicide is not against the law, even if the person had intended to utilize that info to end their life.
Unless the D.A. can prove all the elements of the crime beyond any reasonable doubt, the judge should not convict you of violating this law.
Intoxication is a long shot toward proving innocence in court, although it can help a case when it is well-argued. In many situations, involuntary intoxication is the best approach in assisted suicide cases. All you have to show is you performed your action of aiding a suicide due to involuntary intoxication.
Your Legal Rights Were Violated
The arresting officer should read your Miranda rights before interrogating you. The Miranda warning cautions you about your legal rights. According to this warning, you have the legal right to:
- Stay silent, and anything you say can be used against you in court.
- A lawyer.
- If you cannot afford a lawyer, a public defender should be appointed for you.
This means you are not obligated to answer any of the interrogating officer’s questions, and you can request a lawyer. If the interrogating officer fails to read your Miranda rights, the evidence they collect during the interrogation is not admissible in court, which may result in a case dismissal.
Another instance where police officers may violate your legal rights is by carrying out an illegal search and seizure. Police officers require a valid warrant to search or seize your person or property. If they search without a valid warrant, they have violated the 4th Amendment, and any evidence they obtain may be ruled inadmissible.
You Had an Alibi
Alibi entails showing that you were somewhere else when the crime occurred. That is, you were not at the crime scene. You can easily argue this legal defense without waiving your legal right to stay silent. You may depend on eyewitnesses to prove you were somewhere, but it would be easier to testify by yourself. You could use various ways to show you were absent from the crime scene., including using evidence like debit card info, surveillance footage, receipts, and other ways to show you are innocent.
You can demonstrate police misconduct in different ways. Typical types of misconduct by the police include committing perjury, false arrest, racial profiling, excessive force, and unlawful detention. If you successfully link your charges for assisted suicide to police misconduct, the judge may dismiss your charges. It is challenging to prove misconduct by the police, but an experienced lawyer criminal defense lawyer can successfully help you.
Coercion involves using violence and threats to intimidate a person into admitting to doing something. In this context, someone else may have forced you to aid another in taking their life for revenge. Alternatively, the police officers may have coerced you into confessing to a crime you did not commit.
When arguing the coercion defense, you must prove there was a threat of bodily injury or death, you reasonably feared that the threat would be executed, and you had no reasonable chance to avoid the threat. If you successfully prove these elements, the court may have no choice but to drop the charges against you.
The Penalties for Aiding a Suicide
Violating PC 401 is a felony offense punishable by up to ten thousand dollars in fines and a jail sentence of sixteen, two, or three years. The judge may grant you felony probation instead of serving time in jail.
Felony or formal probation is an alternative to a prison term. It allows felons to serve part of their sentence outside of prison under the supervision of a probation officer. Since anyone found guilty of assisted suicide can be sentenced to formal probation, you want to understand how this type of sentence works.
When the judge sentences you to probation, they will require you to follow certain conditions. Common formal probation conditions judges impose include:
- Doing community service or labor
- Having regular meetings with the probation officer
- Not violating any other laws
- Agreeing to undergo police searches
These are only a few examples of the conditions the judge could impose. Other requirements may be ordered if the court finds that they are reasonable and logically related to the crime of aiding a suicide. Should you violate any condition imposed against you, the judge will schedule a probation violation hearing to decide what action to take. They may decide to reinstate your probation sentence after issuing you a warning, impose harsher conditions for your probation, or revoke the probation sentence and impose the original sentence for aiding a suicide.
Other Consequences of Aiding a Suicide
A conviction may also lead to collateral consequences apart from a fine and incarceration. When pronounced guilty of aiding suicide, the conviction will reflect on your criminal record, and anyone who runs a criminal background check against you will see you have a felony record. Even after successfully serving your prison term, the impact of the criminal conviction is significant. Some collateral consequences the conviction may subject you to include:
- Difficulty securing employment— retaining or securing employment becomes difficult for anyone sentenced for a felony. Prospective employers usually run background checks on potential employees before hiring them. If a prospective employer finds you have a felony conviction on your record, they will be skeptical about employing you and, in many cases, deny you the chance.
- Denial of college admission— when sentenced for a felony, it may be challenging for you to enroll in college. Most higher learning institutions perform background checks on anyone seeking admission. When a felony conviction reflects on your criminal record, you will likely be denied entry into the college of your choice.
- The loss of your professional license— many professional bodies that issue licenses to professionals in California will deny anyone with a criminal record a license to practice their profession. The professional license could be suspended or revoked if you already received one and are convicted of a PC 401 violation, and you might be incapable of renewing it.
- The loss of your right to vote while incarcerated— when found guilty of a felony, you will not be allowed to vote during incarceration. Voting is a fundamental constitutional right you automatically lose when convicted of a felony.
- The loss of your gun rights— California State forbids convicted felons from possessing, owning, or purchasing a firearm. If you are a licensed firearm owner, the court will require you to surrender your guns to the police upon conviction. Even after serving your sentence, the state may not reinstate your right to possess/own guns because you already have a criminal record.
- Securing housing— difficulty renting an apartment is another prevalent challenge that convicted felons face. Most landlords avoid leasing their houses to persons with a felony conviction on their criminal record.
Conviction Record Expungement
After 24 months have elapsed since your case ended, you can file a petition requesting that the court expunge your conviction record. The judge has the power over whether or not to grant your expungement request. Once you expunge a conviction, prospective employers might not discriminate against you due to it. It will also be easier for you to enroll in college, rent an apartment, and even secure loans.
Crimes Related to Aiding a Suicide
Three crimes are related to aiding a suicide. Consequently, the prosecutor can charge you with a PC 401 violation instead of or alongside any of these crimes. The offenses are:
PC 187, Murder
PC 187 is the law that describes the California murder crime. The statute makes it an offense to kill a fetus or human being illegally and with malice aforethought, meaning you acted with reckless disregard for a person’s life. PC 187 violation can result in a maximum sentence of life imprisonment upon conviction.
It is worth repeating that aiding a suicide does not qualify as murder. Aiding means furnishing someone with the ways to kill themself. Murder is the actual taking of someone’s life.
PC 187/664, Attempted Murder
According to PC 187 and PC 664, it is against the law to have the intention to kill an individual and take a direct move toward killing the individual. Still, the person you intended to kill does not pass away. Note that you will not face charges under this law if you aided someone in killing themself and the individual did not finally take their life. If that is the case, you would be prosecuted for attempting to aid suicide.
PC 192, Voluntary Manslaughter
Penal Code 192, is the state’s law that describes voluntary manslaughter. You commit this offense when you kill someone else under the following three circumstances:
- During an unexpected quarrel.
- Based on a sincere yet unreasonable belief that you had to defend yourself.
- In the heat of passion.
A PC 192 violation is a less serious crime than murder. Prosecuting attorneys rarely file Penal Code 192 as original charges. Instead, the crime often arises in murder charges where the defendant confesses to killing someone but negotiates for the prosecution to reduce their charges to manslaughter from murder.
Find an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
If accused of aiding suicide, you want to seek legal counsel from a skilled criminal defense attorney. Understanding the charges you face and your legal rights can assist you in deciding how you would like to proceed with your defense. Even if you are innocent, you want a lawyer’s help developing a solid defense to protect your rights.
At Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we boast lawyers with in-depth knowledge of the law on aiding a suicide. We will be on your side every step of the criminal process, fighting for you to obtain the best possible outcome. We will help you build a vigorous defense, negotiate with the prosecutor, and use other legal means to beat the charges against you. Contact us at 424-333-0943 for a consultation and case evaluation, after which we will start working on your case immediately.