An accessory to a crime is a person who voluntarily or knowingly takes part in a commission of a criminal act. Being an accessory can occur before or after the crime happens. To be criminally responsible for the crime as an accessory, the person does not have to be at the actual scene of the crime. One such accessory to a crime law in Texas is aiding an individual with ending their life.
Aiding suicide is defined in the Texas penal code as a person aiding or trying to aid another person in committing suicide with the intent to either promote or assist the suicide.
This offense is charged as a Class C misdemeanor unless the actor’s conduct causes suicide or attempted suicide that results in serious bodily injury to the person helped to attempt suicide, in which event the offense is a state jail felony.
The crime of aiding suicide in the state of Texas gives police the right to arrest a person if they believe the person promoted or helped someone commit or try to commit suicide.
Can a Physician Assist a Person in Committing Suicide in Texas?
It is important to recognize that in Texas, a physician cannot legally assist a person in committing suicide. Physician-assisted suicide is prohibited. Texas law does not permit mercy killing or any act or omission aimed at ending a person’s life. This prohibition includes intentionally taking medication with the intention of committing suicide.
Can I Be Allowed to Die a Natural Death in Texas?
The law in Texas does allow a person to take steps to ensure that they can die of natural causes.
A person can do this by instructing their healthcare providers that life-sustaining treatments should not be provided or should be withdrawn. “Life-sustaining treatments” would include medications and artificial life support such as mechanical breathing devices, kidney dialysis, feeding tubes, and IVs to provide hydration.
A person’s instructions are only effective in two situations. The first situation is that the person has been diagnosed with a condition that can never be cured. This diagnosis leaves the person unable to care for or make decisions for themselves and will be fatal if they do not have some kind of life-sustaining treatment.
The second situation is that the person has been diagnosed with a terminal condition that will cause their death within six months, even if some kind of life-sustaining treatment is provided.
A person should give these instructions before they are diagnosed with an irreversible or terminal condition. They can achieve this by signing a document known as a “Directive to Physicians.” A person must sign the form in front of two witnesses.
A person can also communicate their instructions verbally to two witnesses. There are specific requirements for the witnesses in order to avoid any question of inappropriate dealings, e.g., undue influence. Both the witnesses must be adults.
At least one must be a person who is not a relative, health care agent, or heir or beneficiary under the person’s will. In addition, this disinterested witness may not be affiliated with either the person’s treating physician or a creditor.
If a person does not want to have witnesses, they have the option of signing in front of a notary. A person does not need to have both witnesses and a notary present.
Texas makes a statutory form for the directive available in its Health and Safety Code, but a person is not obligated to use that specific form. A person’s physician and health care facility cannot require a person to present them with a specific kind of form. A person can draft their own directive to provide for any number of eventualities.
Once a person has made their instructions, they are universally binding. That means it is binding on a person’s relatives, their agents, their doctor, and their hospital. They are not, however, binding on the person who makes the directive.
A person can revoke a directive at any time, either orally or in writing or by physically destroying the paper. Of course, a person needs to have the mental capacity to make the directive and the mental capacity to change or revoke it.
A person’s instructions go into effect once your attending physician has certified in writing that a person is a “qualified patient,” meaning that the person has a terminal or irreversible condition. However, if a person is pregnant, then the instructions will not be effective for the term of the pregnancy. Nothing in the directive can be interpreted as prohibiting care that keeps a person comfortable.
What Is the Punishment for Aiding Someone With Their Suicide?
The crime of aiding a person to commit suicide is a Class C misdemeanor in Texas. The punishment upon conviction of a Class C misdemeanor is payment of a $500 fine.
Can I Get Jail Time for Helping Someone with Their Suicide in Texas?
If a person is convicted of helping a person commit suicide, if the suicide does not in fact take place, the person would be guilty of a misdemeanor only and would be punished by payment of a fine only.
If a person causes another person to commit suicide or attempt suicide and the person suffers serious bodily injury, they can be charged with a state jail time felony.
What Is the Punishment for Conviction of a State Jail Felony?
In Texas, if a person is convicted of a state jail felony, they can be punished as follows:
- A term of imprisonment in a state jail of 180 days to 2 years. This means that the person would have to serve a minimum of 180 days and might have to serve as much as 2 years;
- Payment of a fine of 10,000;
- Both serving time in state jail and paying a fine of $10,000.
State jail is something distinct from state prison and county jail in Texas. A state jail felony is the least serious type of felony in Texas. However, conviction of a state jail felony can still result in serious consequences.
Parole is not available to people who have been convicted of a state jail felony. Inmates cannot shorten their sentences by earning credit for good behavior. Instead, they must rely on “Diligent Participation Credits,” which can shorten a jail sentence by 20 percent.
However, state jail felonies are still felonies. They have many of the same negative consequences as other types of felonies in Texas. For example, a person convicted of a state jail felony can:
- Lose their right to vote,
- Be prohibited from possession or ownership of a firearm;
- Become ineligible to receive federal student loans and enter professional certification programs,
- Have to inform potential employers of their prior felony conviction.
Do I Need an Attorney to Represent Me in My Aiding Suicide Case?
If you have been charged with aiding a suicide in Texas or want to know more about the state of the law on this subject in the state, you want to consult a Texas criminal defense lawyer. Your lawyer can protect your rights and represent you in negotiations with the prosecution or at a trial if that should become necessary.