A recent criminal case involving a young man’s suicide and his girlfriend’s urgings via text has raised an interesting legal question. Can another person be held accountable for encouraging someone’s suicide? While at the outset it might seem like that’s not possible, Justia offers the following information about this compelling case and why the guilty verdict was indeed justified.
Many types of speech are protected by this country’s free speech laws. As a result, some posited that this conviction actually shows a person’s right to free speech being violated. The logic goes that the defendant had a right to express herself as she saw fit, even though most people would agree that her statements were morally reprehensible. However, carrying on a conversation via text is not considered the same as expressing yourself in other ways. For example, unlike a book containing controversial ideas being published, there is no opposing viewpoint to a text message shared between two individuals.
Certain types of speech also lack protection under federal laws. Speech that is intended to incite violence or threats is not protected, as illustrated by the common example of shouting “fire” in a crowded movie theater. As a result, it could be construed that the girlfriend in this scenario actually incited her boyfriend to end his life which takes away the free speech element.
There are also issues related to duty of care. In this particular case, the court determined that the girlfriend had a duty of care to the boyfriend based on his seeking out assistance and support while in the throes of mental illness. She betrayed this duty when the young man expressed second thoughts about killing himself. Upon leaving his vehicle, which was rigged to fill up with carbon monoxide, she admonished him to return and finish the deed. According to the judge, this exhibited reckless behavior that directly contributed to the young man’s death.