Can you be convicted of a crime for doing nothing more than talking? Surely, you can—we all know it is a crime to threaten someone with violence. What about being held responsible for the death of someone else simply because of the words that you use? Could you be guilty of murder or manslaughter?
Texting Leads to Manslaughter Conviction
You certainly can when it comes to suicide, as a recent case in Massachusetts demonstrates. A young woman was recently convicted of manslaughter for allegedly sending a series of texts encouraging a young man to kill himself. The young man was her boyfriend, and evidence showed numerous intimate calls and text messages that prosecutors say encouraged or drove the young man to commit suicide.
Testimony revealed the young man was emotionally or mentally troubled, so much so that he had tried to take his own life previously. The accused herself also apparently struggled with mental disorders.
The state alleged that she specifically encouraged the boy to kill himself and even listened as he suffocated himself inside a running vehicle. Prosecutors say that she berated him when he expressed doubts over killing himself, to the point that he was allegedly apologizing to her for not having done it sooner. The woman was sentenced to 15 months in jail, but she intends to appeal.
Laws Exist That Prohibit Encouraging of Suicide
On the one hand it may seem odd that someone can go to jail for manslaughter for doing no more than sending text messages, no matter how terrible they may seem (which is probably why this case made national headlines). On the other hand, it may make sense that someone who so strongly pushes someone else to commit suicide, knowing that person is a suicide risk, should be punished.
In fact, many states including Maryland have laws that make it a crime to induce someone to commit suicide. Anybody who, by coercion, duress, or deception, knowingly and intentionally causes someone else to commit suicide or who provides access to the ability to commit suicide, is committing a crime and can be held responsible for that suicide.
Certain Requirements Must be Met
As is indicated by the language in the law, someone must act intentionally to be committing a crime. So, for example, breaking up with a lover who then commits suicide or firing someone from a job who later commits suicide would not be crimes, as there is no intention to coerce the other person to kill him or herself.
Causation also must be proven. As is the issue in the recent Massachusetts conviction, a jury would have to decide if the accused’s actions drove the person over the edge, or if other causes, including mental illness, led to the suicide.
If you are arrested or charged with a crime, make sure your attorney understands the charges against you. Contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your case if you are charged with a crime or arrested in Maryland.