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Texting Someone To Commit Suicide Is A Crime: Here Are The Top Defenses To Avoid Criminal Charges

Okabe & Haushalter Feb 7, 2019 Criminal Defense

Many of us communicate with our friends and loved ones in a manner that only the participants of this conversation can understand. Thus, if a text-based conversation between you and your friend, who committed suicide, gets into the wrong hands, it may lead to a conviction of involuntary manslaughter.

After all, what you and your friend perceive as jokes, quips, and sarcasm, a person who is not aware of the context of your conversation and the manner in which you communicate may perceive as an angry conversation between two people who hate each other.

Time and time again, people have faced serious criminal consequences for texting their friends or loved ones messages that seemed to encourage them to commit suicide. So can you go to prison for writing anything about suicide in your text-based conversation with a friend or loved one who committed suicide?

This is the question we asked our Los Angeles criminal defense attorney at Okabe & Haushalter. And here’s what he has to say about this.

Texting can be used to prove that you encouraged someone to commit suicide

To answer the question, let’s refer to California Penal Code Section 401. Under California law, you can be convicted of a crime for “assisting, advising or encouraging suicide.” However, in order for the prosecution to convict you of this crime, the prosecutor must have evidence of any of the following:

  • You assisted another person in committing suicide
  • You deliberately aided, advised, or encouraged another person to commit suicide

As you may have guessed by now, texting, voicemails, and emails can be used as evidence that you deliberately aided, advised or encouraged someone to take his or her own life. Our experienced criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles warns that witness statements can also be used as evidence to prove that you encouraged someone to commit suicide.

How your text messages can be used as evidence in ‘assisting a suicide’ charges

Let’s review a couple of examples of how your texts or emails can encourage your friend or loved one to die by his or her own hand.

  1. Your best friend has been diagnosed with breast cancer. She texts you asking for advice and telling you that she does not have the strength to go through this, which is why she says she is considering taking her own life. Because both you and your friend love dark humor and make fun of one another even when it is not appropriate, you think this is one of her jokes and write back, “Well, I guess it is time for you to end your life!” A few days later, you find out that your friend committed suicide…
  2. You have recently broken up with your boyfriend, and ever since the breakup, he has been sending you unwanted texts. After ignoring about a dozen of them, you finally respond with, “OMG, why don’t you do everyone a favor and just die?” At the time, he was struggling with depression caused by the breakup. A few days later after your text, your boyfriend ended his life.

Now, if your texts get into the wrong hands in either of these two examples, you could be convicted of encouraging a suicide, which is a crime punishable by up to three years in California prison and fines of up to $10,000.

Defenses to ‘encouraging a suicide’ charges

But do not worry, if you are represented by a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer, you may be able to avoid criminal charges by mounting any of the following defenses to “encouraging a suicide” charges:

  1. No deliberate intent of the defendant. Unless you actually deliberately intended to encourage your best friend or ex-boyfriend to commit suicide, your skilled criminal defense attorney should be able to prevent a conviction.
  2. No intent to commit suicide by the person who attempted or committed suicide. It often happens that an accident can look like the victim attempted or committed suicide. Your lawyer should be able to investigate the case and figure out whether or not the victim had the intent to take his or her own life.
  3. False accusations. If you are being falsely accused by other people who rely on witness statements that you “aided, advised or encouraged” someone to commit suicide, you should be able to avoid criminal charges.
  4. Discussing suicide is not a crime. You should not be convicted of a crime if you merely talked to someone about suicide without actually encouraging them to take their own life.

Regardless of your situation, you should consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles or elsewhere in California. After all, being accused of encouraging suicide is not a joke. Get a free consultation from our attorneys at Okabe & Haushalter by calling at 310-430-7799.