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Suicide: Legal Aspects - Bibliography

life defendant attempted murder

The taking of one's own life has raised ethical, religious, and legal issues for centuries. Although the suicide rate in some countries is declining, in the United States it remains high, virtually equaling the homicide rate each year.

At English common law, suicide was a felony punishable by burial in the public highway with a stake driven through the body and forfeiture of all one's goods to the Crown. In the minority of American jurisdictions that continue to recognize common law crimes, suicide is in theory a criminal offense; but in practice no penalty has ever been applied in the United States for a successful suicide. Penalties may, however, be imposed for attempting suicide or for aiding another to attempt or to commit suicide.

Until the 1970s the statutes of a number of states forbade attempts to commit suicide. In codified form a typical example is a former Oklahoma law, Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 21, § 812 (1958) (repealed 1976):

Any person who, with intent to take his own life, commits upon himself any act dangerous to human life, or which if committed upon or toward another person and followed by death as a consequence would render the perpetrator chargeable with homicide, is guilty of attempting suicide.

In states retaining common law crimes, attempted suicide is a criminal offense, but this is not true in most jurisdictions. In the past there was considerable sentiment for making attempted suicide an offense: the thought persisted that it was contrary to societal interest to attempt to take human life, even one's own life. That policy has been generally rejected today. One who is bent on self-destruction is not likely to be deterred by the possibility of punishment if he fails. Thus, the rationale for punishing attempted suicide is eliminated. Modern American attitudes toward punishing both suicide and attempted suicides are similar to those expressed in England. The English Suicide Act, 1961, 9 & 10 Eliz. 2, c. 60, s. 1, provides that suicide should no longer be deemed criminal.

A different issue arises if an individual, while attempting to take his own life, kills another person. Most commonly, this issue arises when someone who is attempting to prevent another from committing suicide is accidentally killed by the latter. Some lawyers have argued that the sanction for involuntary manslaughter should be imposed upon the person who initially attempted the suicide, for in these cases the death was caused by actions of the defendant that were performed recklessly.

Other lawyers contend that in these cases the defendant should be convicted of murder. Several theories support the argument. First, in jurisdictions in which suicide is a felony, the resulting death could constitute murder under a broadly based felony-murder theory—that is, it is a killing that took place during the commission of a felony. Second, the conviction of murder could be upheld under the theory of transferred intent, where the intent to take one's own life is transferred to the taking of another's life. This rule normally applies when the defendant shoots at the victim, misses him, and kills an innocent bystander. Third, the murder conviction could be sustained in jurisdictions such as Illinois, which define murder as a killing by the defendant with knowledge that his "acts create a strong probability of death or great bodily harm to another" (Ill. Ann. Stat. ch. 38, § 9-1 (a)(2) (1979)).

A more troublesome problem arises when the defendant does not seek to take his own life but aids another to commit suicide. At common law, the person who knowingly aided the suicide victim would be considered a principal in the homicide offense if he was present when the suicide occurred; he would be considered an accessory before the fact if he provided aid but was not at the scene at the time of the death. In modern legislation one rendering such aid may be guilty of either aiding a suicide or of aiding a suicide attempt. The issue is troublesome in situations in which the suicide asks for assistance because he is in great pain as the result of a long terminal illness. Although some courts have indicated that such assistance would not result in criminal responsibility, the question is still very much open in most jurisdictions.

If the defendant causes the victim to take his own life, the answer is clearer. When the victim is so severely injured that he is induced to kill himself, the defendant may be held criminally responsible for murder. The principle here is that the death is the foreseeable and proximate result of the defendant's illegal acts, and the defendant, therefore, may be prosecuted under a homicide charge. Where the defendant's assault on the victim is less severe, however, the subsequent suicide of the victim may not be deemed predictable. In such instances the defendant, although guilty of assault, escapes criminal liability for the suicide.

In the United States today, one may be held criminally responsible for aiding another to commit suicide, whether successful or attempted. It is also quite clear that appropriate criminal penalties should be imposed to deter behavior that lures another into suicide or attempted suicide. The major policy decision, however, does not fall into these two areas. Rather, members of the public and the police must be given adequate power to intervene in order to save life when persons are threatening suicide, except in situations—perhaps including terminal illness—in which society concludes that suicide is not an improper end to life.

PAUL MARCUS

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almost 7 years ago

"Rather, members of the public and the police must be given adequate power to intervene in order to save life when persons are threatening suicide"

Nonsense. People have a right to end their lives if they so choose.

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over 6 years ago

Their, their, their. Not him, not himself you. You should be sued for discrimination. Sexist americans.... Screw the law and screw you who decide the rights to our being. This is not a society but a high archy.

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about 7 years ago

The world is complicated and a lot of the complication arises from people selling theirs, and others, rights to the government. Who need big brother when uncle sam is so much more efficient. I am a patriot and true American, but I believe in smaller goevernment and less legislation. Do you REALLY need someone to tell you what is right and wrong? Do you really need someone telling you what to say and do? How have we become so dependent that we welcome the police taking away rights to protect ourselves and our families and thus become dependent on them? If someone finds their life in a hard way and cannot cope with depression, there is no point in society making them stick around, drifting through life, probably not being a productive member of society and generally making the rest of the world miserable. There is nothing explicitly stated in the Bible which progibits suicicide. There are numerous examples in the Bible of people (and kings) committing suicide to escape a bad situation. Murder and suicide are not the same. Punish a murderer, heal depression, pray for suicides.

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almost 8 years ago

Suicide should be ones right. Assisted suicide should be ones right. You can't tell someone to live an unhappy life rather than die. If someone lives when they are not happy with their life they are just going to make everyone else life hell. If you aren't happy the ones around you aren't going to be happy. If your life is in a bad spot and you have tried forever to get it right, nothing is going to change. Who wants to live on the street. Who wants to live when a cop have violated their rights and ruined their lives with charges that will imprison them. Who wants to live when there are no jobs left. Who wants to steal for a living. It's just not worth it. It is a help to the country to sacrifice yourself for the better of the country. The healthcare system should make a way for people to end their lives respectfully on the best note they can. We are adults we can decide what we want to do. We should be able to plan such a thing. Don't save people that don't want saved. You might get hurt by someone that is unhappy when you are trying to interfere. I know this will be taken down. But I have a right to my opinion just like everyone here does. I know you wont all agree with me. But that isn't relevant to someone that wants to die. Thanks atleast for your consideration.

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over 8 years ago

My ex attempted suicide by drinking,pills and slicing her forearm to the palm of her hand. This is her second attempt in the last 5 years. She lived, what I want to know or where to goto, is why isnt there anything that flags this person and lets the Courts, or child support divisions know what is up and why the other parent isnt notified about it? Who to talk to about it for starters, how to get anything in the works for sucha program.

I had to inform the courts about it , and nothing has been done. She somehow rescently got custody of her 2 older daughters. I have filed out my paperwork and for what, nothing. Dotted my "i's" and crossed my "t's" and got it noterized for change of custody, for a hurry up and wait.

I am not going to keep our son from her, but I am not going to let him be alone with her either. Not saying she will do anything to him but I am not going to take that chance.



ANYONE know which way to point me in the right direction to get matters more under control please let me know.

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over 6 years ago

the right to life is a prison sentence and not a right if we don't also have the right to die.

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almost 7 years ago

@Alfredo

"Attempted suicide should be a felony. Even though a person may be mentally unstable"

One problem: The 3 Strikes Rule. In States that have it this would mean that 3 attempts of suicide would result in a mandatory Life Sentence with no chance of Parole for 20 years. If you think someone's life was bad enough to make them want to kill themselves before. Go ahead. Make it a Felony. This will only reinforce their desire to seek their own end and behind bars will be where they will die.

If you think that is implausible consider this: People are currently serving life sentences for stealing a slice of pizza or ripping someone off over a stupid air conditioner because of the 3 strikes rule.

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almost 7 years ago


I believe that both Suicide and assisted Suicide should be legal.

All individuals should have the right to do whatever they please so long as that right does not infringe on the rights of others. No laws should be passed except to address issues where two freedoms contradict.

People should also be allowed to put such wishes into Living Wills. For example, some people awake from head trauma with no memories at all of their life. Literally as different people. I would put in my Living Will that I would wish to be killed if I am ever found to be in such a state.

At the very least people should be allowed to seek "Suicide Waivers" to allow them to seek death. For example, the terminally ill. There is no psychological trauma to heal from. There is no hope of recovery. They know they are going to die and just want to die. Society does not stand to benefit in any way shape or form by the forcing of the terminally ill to not only continue to live but continue to pay Medical Expenses. In a twist one could argue that the effort to keep the terminally ill alive is an action by the government to force families to absorb more medical costs and endure more emotional suffering than would otherwise be required.

I am also probably one of the only people on the face of the earth who supports the Death Penalty for reasons of Mercy. I would consider Life in Prison to be the Ultimate Punishment while the Death Penalty an act of Mercy. I am outraged that people behind bars for life not only are not allowed to die but are put on a suicide watch.

I believe all people with Life in Prison should have the legal right to request Death. Similarly, any inmate with a sentence duration likely to result in little chance of happiness on release to request death as well and for all Death Penalties to be done in the most painless way possible. They should be indulged with painkillers and tranquilizers and then killed while asleep. And that such a death be as immediate as possible.

How, I would ask, would society benefit from the terminally ill or the eternally incarcerated from being kept alive as long as possible?

In the case of the Death Penalty and/or Suicide Requests in Prison I would argue that the costs of keeping them behind bars significantly out weighs the cost of killing them.

...

However, on the flip side, I do not believe anyone should be given the Death Sentence who did not request it. And in cases of suicide there should still be systems in place who would serve to benefit society but are just in a bad emotional state.

There was this one time that I thought about killing myself over a relationship issue but instead pulled myself out of it. Someone else in the same situation probably could use some help. I am only against this form of suicide because no choice should really be respected under emotional duress alone unless there is little chance of the duress ever going away.

...

If my opinions were put into practice America would not be dealing with over crowded Prisons. There would not be an unemployment problem. Our economy would be stronger.

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over 10 years ago

Attempted suicide should be a felony. Even though a person may be mentally unstable, a felony conviction could possibly keep the person from buying a gun. My daughter would be alive if the fool who shot her 7 times was treated as a felon after attempting to kill himself twice. My daughter called the police to save this devil's life on his second attempt. He was hospitalized for 4 days then he went & bought a gun. He shot my girl 7 times then himself. May he rot in hell.

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over 8 years ago

Attempted suicide should be a felony. Even though a person may be mentally unstable

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almost 8 years ago

What is the process if a suicide fails or someone is prevented from suicide? What does law enforcement do? Where does the person go, to jail or a hospital. Are they thrown into a cell naked and strip searched as I have seen in some documentaries?

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about 10 years ago

MANY PEOPLE WHO ATTEMPT SUICIDE ARE JUST

ASKING FOR HELP IN AN ACUTE MANNER. THEY

ARE IN DIRE STRAIGHTS FOR 1:1 ATTENTION.

GIVE THEM THE ATTENTION THEY SO DEARLY

NEED AND CHARGE THEM WITH A FELONY. LET

THEM PAY FOR ALL THE SUFFERING THEY HAVE

CAUSED THEIR LOVED ONES.



































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about 9 years ago

By not classifying premeditated attempted suicide as a felony, the law opens a loophole by which defendants otherwise guilty of homocide can commit murder on a grand scale and yet only be charged with manslaughter or second degree murder. This greatly weakens the provision of justice and enables criminals to commit the most haneous of murders while escaping true justice. Premeditated attempted suicide cannot be a defense in a case that would otherwise be reasonably classified as first degree murder. The premeditated taking of a life whether one's own or another should have the same consequence for a surviving perpetrator should any life be taken as a result of the perpetrator's successful or unsuccessful attempt at suicide. There is both a social as well as legal basis for classifying homicide committed during the process of an attempted suicide in the same manner as if the attempt at suicide never occurred. One need only refer to numerous botched suicide bombings and other acts of terror as well as incidents such as the Alvarez case involving the derailment of a Southern California Metrolink train in 2005. To allow attempted suicide as a defense is a distortion of justice as well as understates and mischaracterizes the true nature of the crime committed.

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almost 10 years ago

Most suicide attempts are caused by depression, and because of this one who knows of someone attempting to take his or her's own life needs the given attention to heal and restore their lives. Whatever the case my be those who are self-destructive need to be rehabilitated and have to be givien the guidance to solve their problems. Attempted suicide should have a penalty of some sort, in a way where the person will be kept in a safe environment. I find it unbelievable that once upon a time the penalty for trying to kill yourself was death...In any case it is a sensitive and serious matter and should be given the proper care.

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almost 10 years ago

i feel for your loss but that will never happen. The courts run and base new laws off of what can be applied to all citizens, not based off one man's craziness. One single incident is not going to cause a new law to be created making it a felony. Thats just not how the law works

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about 10 years ago

I wanted to write i needed help after dating this boy for a moth we began to go out we broke up becouse he was crazy about his two sons mother not in love just obsessed. He has her whole house mapped out and never shouts up about how she hert him and the other day i broke up with him and told him to get over it its driving me crazy he later on that night tryed to commite suicide by hanging him self im very pissed at him for this he is selfish scary and he has hert me so bad by his actions i wish i never met him.I am asking should i walk away or should i inform someone of this map of her home. I feel he could kill her and im affraid to tell anyone couse he may be angry and hert me.And what if i dont and he kills her and the 2 sons i also dont believe he should get to see the kids unsupervised.