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Aiding a Suicide Law in California

Posted in Criminal Defense on November 12, 2019

In California, there is a law in place that makes it illegal to help another person commit suicide, advise them about how to commit suicide, or encourage them to commit suicide. Understanding this law is essential for all citizens of this state.

While this state does allow for physician-assisted suicides, Penal Code 401 makes it illegal for anyone who is not a doctor to help anyone else with suicide.

What is Penal Code 401?

In California, Penal Code 401 applies to “Any person who deliberately aids, advises, or encourages another to commit suicide.”

What would a violation of this law look like?

Margaret is in her mid-80s and has recently been diagnosed with brain cancer. She discovers that the treatment for this cancer is expensive and painful and, even if she receives treatment, will likely live only a year longer.

Margaret makes the decision that she would rather die quickly and peacefully. She has decided to kill herself. She tells her friend Janet about her situation, and Janet agrees that she would likely feel the same way.

At Margret’s request, Janet travels to various drug stores to purchase a lethal dose of sleeping pills. Janet stays wit Margret when she takes the pills and consumes them with alcohol to kill herself.

In this scenario, Janet is guilty of aiding and encouraging suicide. Not only did she encourage Margret to make this decision, but she also helped Margaret take her own life by purchasing the pills. Janet’s actions were deliberate in this case.

Additionally, if you advise, encourage, or assist someone to commit suicide, but that person does not actually succeed in killing themselves, you can still face charges.

The difference between aiding a suicide and murder

California’s Penal Code 401 applies only to those who help other people kill themselves. In these cases, the person charged did not actually kill the person. However, if someone asks you to kill them and you do so, you will face charges under California Penal Code 187 PC murder.

In the case above, had Margaret asked Janet to kill her as opposed to doing so herself, Janet would face murder charges, even if Margaret left a note stating her reasons for enlisting Janet in her death.

Defense and Penalties

California Penal Code 401 (aiding, advising or encouraging a suicide) is a felony charge. A person convicted could face:

  • Felony probation
  • Sixteen months, two years, or three years in state prison
  • A fine of up to $10,000

A person facing these charges is facing a devastating experience. In most cases, these charges come after a person has lost a close friend or relative and they are in the grieving process. In many cases, these charges are brought against minors after a friend commits suicide.

If a minor is involved, a defense attorney may argue that the minor did not fully understand the implications of helping or encouraging a friend to commit suicide.

In some instances, it can be argued that the defendant believed that a discussion of suicide was purely theoretical and that they did not think the other person was actually going to commit suicide. California’s Penal Code 401 requires criminal intent, so your criminal attorney will work to show you did not intend to break any laws in your case.