Articles Posted in Family Violence

Under Sec. 22.08 of the Penal Code, is it a crime to aid another in suicide.  That crime is defined as “(a)  A person commits an offense if, with intent to promote or assist the commission of suicide by another, he aids or attempts to aid the other to commit or attempt to commit suicide.  (b)  An offense under this section is a Class C misdemeanor unless the actor’s conduct causes suicide or attempted suicide that results in serious bodily injury, in which event the offense is a state jail felony.”   Thus, you could face 180 days to 2 years in jail for aiding in the suicide of another, even if they are unsuccessful but hurt themselves severely.  However, the Penal Code does not define “aiding” so a jury would have to use the common meaning of the word.

At common law, aiding and abbetting rendered a person guilty as a principal in the second degree.   It consisted in being present at the time and place, and doing some act to render aid to the actual perpetrator of the crime, though without taking a direct share in its commission.  Under this definition, Ms. Carter could and would not be guilty of assisting suicide.    Under Webster’s dictionary, aiding  is defined as 1) transitive verb:  to provide with what is useful or necessary in achieving an end aid a cause aid a friend, and 2) intransitive verb:  to give assistance research that aided in the discovery a new drug.  Here, Ms. Carter only gave mere words of encouragement.  She did not provide any pills or poison gas, or help at the scene or give him a gun.  It would be a stretch to say here words were useful or necessary in achieving the end.

Her words, as awful as they were, do not likely fit any Texas homicide or suicide statute.   She may fit under a harassment or stalking statute, but that is a story for a different day.suicidal-tendencies-1563013-300x198

pills-300x211This begs the question, how could encouragement alone ever be the but for of another person actually killing himself?   A jury would have to find that but for Ms. Carter’s conduct, the deceased would not have killed himself.  Then, the state would have to show also that the concurrent cause (method of death, other factors pushing suicide) were not sufficient on their own to cause death.  That would be a very large uphill battle for the prosecutor, because a person who kills themselves by definition caused their own death by some act.

But, couldn’t she be a party to a crime?   Section 7.02 of the code of the Penal Code defines the law of parties.   One might think this would apply, but it really doesn’t.  Under the law of parties “(a)  A person is criminally responsible for an offense committed by the conduct of another if:  (2)  acting with intent to promote or assist the commission of the offense, he solicits, encourages, directs, aids, or attempts to aid the other person to commit the offense.”  Thus, encouraging someone to kill ANOTHER could cause you to be a party to manslaughter or murder.  Killing oneself though, is not manslaughter or murder, because it is taking your own life, not the life of another.  As much as Texas has criminalized behavior, killing yourself is still not a crime.

All of this considered, I think a jury would have a very difficult time in Texas convicting a person of manslaughter for encouraging suicide, and futher think that the Courts of Appeals and Court of Criminal Appeals would have a very tough time sustaining it.   But, there is a lesser crime in Texas that could possibly stick.

suicide-225x300Emotions ran high last week as Michelle Carter was sentenced to prison under Massachusetts’ manslaughter law for encouraging her boyfriend to kill himself, which he did.  Under the apparent facts of the case, she overcame with words her boyfriend’s reluctance to kill himself due to her crazed need for attention.   What would happen if something similar happened in Texas?

Section 19.04 of the Texas Penal Code defines manslaughter as  “(a)  A person commits an offense if he recklessly causes the death of an individual.  So, one must recklessly cause the death of another.  But what is reckless?    Under section 6.03(c), “A person acts recklessly, or is reckless, with respect to circumstances surrounding his conduct or the result of his conduct when he is aware of but consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur.  The risk must be of such a nature and degree that its disregard constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from the actor’s standpoint.”  We normally liken recklessness to intentionally driving a car well above the speed limit through a neighborhood.  There is a known risk that something bad is likely to happen.  Thus, a person encouraging suicide could be convicted of manslaughter and face 2-20 in prison if she recklessly caused the death of an individual through suicide.    But how does encouraging simply alone CAUSE the death of another, when the individual’s own acts are what actually results in his death?  This is where the Texas law gets narrow on the issue.   Section 6.04 of the Penal Code defines causation as  “(a)  A person is criminally responsible if the result would not have occurred but for his conduct, operating either alone or concurrently with another cause, unless the concurrent cause was clearly sufficient to produce the result and the conduct of the actor clearly insufficient.”

Broken.jpgAssault is broadly defined under Texas law. Under Section 22.01 of the Penal Code, one commits an assault if he (1) intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing bodily injury to another, including the person’s spouse; or (2) intentionally or knowingly threatens another with imminent bodily injury, including the person’s spouse, or (3) intentionally or knowingly causes physical contact with another when the person knows or should reasonably believe that the other will regard the contact as offensive or provocative. Non-bodily injury assault (by threat or contact under (2) or (3) are normally Class C misdemeanors). You must be very careful with these two charges as well, for even Class C misdemeanor assaults appear to allow family violence findings that result in an enhancement to a third degree family if a later family violence assault is charged.

Juries can be very skeptical of domestic assault allegations for the reasons mentioned here. Like fraud, it is very easy to accuse, but very hard to prove. You certainly should NEVER make the decision to assault anyone, especially a loved one, but you should also take extra caution not to put yourself in a situation where a loved one/ex/household member can falsely charge you.

False assault allegations are one of the few instances where it may be better to talk to the police officer about what happened, and what motive your loved one has for falsely accusing you, unless you have already been arrested or charged. If someone has threatened to get you arrested, avoid them at all costs. An enemy can find a way to make your life miserable, including having you thrown in jail. Be extra careful in divorce/separation situations, and bring a witness along if you expect a confrontation with an estranged love one.

FamilyViolence1.jpgFamily violence has evolved dramatically through time, most of it in the last few decades. At common law, a wife and children were property that the husband/father could deal with as he pleased for the most part. The world has grown up, and we now have very strict family violence statutes. Many men (and some women) are often falsely accused of family violence resulting lifelong disabilities and loss of civil rights. Domestic violence is a serious issue, but many uncscrupulous people take advantage of our lack of tolerance for domestic abuse.

Few accusations come easier than one partner claiming that their other partner slapped/punched/kicked/kneed/elbowed/body slammed/suplexed the other during a domestic confrontation. Husband (or better yet, ex husband or soon to be ex-boyfriend) isn’t doing what you want, so what better to do than call 911 and see if you can get him arrested, right? The worst you face is a false report to a police officer, right, and how is he going to prove that? These thoughts often run through the heat of a nasty argument, but the position you are putting the police and another human being in is very horrible.

First of all, you make the officer make an arrest decision. Many police departments have policies regarding an arrest at a family violence scene. If the officer has probable cause to believe family violence has occurred, he will likely arrest the accused. Probably cause is among the lowest standards in the law, requiring only that there be some evidence that a crime was committed and the person accused committed it. Some evidence, not much. If the officer believes your story, that is enough. Your estranged is now under arrest for one of the most serious misdemeanors, which in some ways is more serious than DWI. If he has a prior family violence conviction, he is under arrest for a third degree felony. Paying bond and hiring an attorney may be the least of his problems.