A recent New York Times article discussed a Massachusetts case where a 20 year old is being charged with involuntary manslaughter for encouraging her 17 year-old boyfriend to commit suicide by texting him messages encouraging him to kill himself. Along with the recent concern of parents and teachers around the country with the Netflix drama 13 Reasons Why, the question of who is “responsible” for a suicide has been on the minds of New Yorkers and Americans everywhere.
While promoting suicide is clearly not something society encourages, that does not always mean it is a crime. In New York, like many states, there is a specific crime of “promoting a suicide attempt” under NY Penal Law § 120.30. If you or a loved one has been charged with promoting a suicide attempt or any other crime connected to bullying, harassment, or murder, talk to an attorney. Charges like these could yield serious penalties for mere moments of indiscretion. The Queens, NY murder and manslaughter attorneys at Sullivan and Galleshaw may be able to get your charges dropped or reduced.
New York’s Promoting a Suicide Attempt Laws
NY Penal Law § 120.30 defines the crime of “promoting a suicide attempt” as follows: “A person is guilty of promoting a suicide attempt when he intentionally causes or aids another person to attempt suicide.” This means that there are only two elements to this crime:
- The victim attempted to commit suicide, and
- The defendant intentionally caused or aided the suicide attempt.
One of the first big issues regarding this crime is whether the actions the defendant took were actually “intentional.” This means that the “conscious objective or purpose” of the defendant was to cause or aid the person’s suicide attempt. Something like helping someone overdose on medication could clearly violate this law. A situation like the case from Massachusetts is much less clear. Things are even foggier in the case of bullying or harassment, as depicted in 13 Reasons Why.
With something like bullying, cyberbullying, or harassment, the goal that the actor has in mind is to bother someone or to hurt them emotionally. The “intent” in that situation is not necessarily aimed at the person’s death, but at other harms. While this does not necessarily absolve the defendant of all criminal intent, and could set them up for harassment charges, it is a better alternative than being charged with promoting a suicide attempt. On top of this, it is unclear whether the conduct of aggressive language, physical bullying, and other similar acts are the type of actions this law tries to punish.
Case law suggests that § 120.30 is used more often against doctors who perform assisted suicides, rather than against individuals who bully or harass others. Assisted suicide, or “aid-in-dying” cases are a substantial debate around the country. This law appears to be New York’s answer to that, rather than a law to stop harassment. Specifically, the New York Court of Appeals’ primary cases on the topic deal with removal of feeding tubes and other end-of-life decisions, and whether this crime violates the rights of someone who wants to die but is unable to do so without help.
Punishment for Promoting Suicide in NY
There are many reasons that lead people to commit suicide. So often, mental illness, depression, socioeconomic concerns, and the stresses of life are some of the largest contributing factors. For anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts or feelings, it is vital to seek help – but for those who contribute to those feelings with harsh words, the penalty should fit the crime.
Promoting a suicide attempt in New York is considered a Class E, nonviolent felony. This means that the crime can include up to four years in prison under NY Penal Law § 70, plus fines up to $5,000.
A crime like harassment, codified in NY Penal Law § 240.25-240.31 might be a more appropriate charge. While the highest level of this crime is also a Class E felony, other forms are misdemeanors or “violations.” The most appropriate form, “harassment in the second degree” under § 240.26, is the crime of “engag[ing] in a course of conduct or repeatedly [committing] acts which alarm or seriously annoy such other person and which serve no legitimate purpose.” This is a “violation” under New York law, and results in a fine of no more than $250 and up to 15 days in jail. If your attorney can argue that this charge is more appropriate, and that a fine is sufficient punishment, this could save you years of penalties and thousands of dollars.
Queens Criminal Defense Attorney
If you have been charged with any crime in New York, or you think you might be charged with harassment or promoting a suicide, it is important to talk to a criminal defense attorney. The New York City criminal defense attorneys at Sullivan and Galleshaw may be able to fight your case for you, reduce your charges, reduce your sentence, or beat the case at trial. For a free consultation on your case, call to schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys right away. Our number is (800) 720-0135.