Thursday, September 22, 2011

A One Gun Salute to a Catch 22: Can You Kill Somebody in Order to Prevent Suicide in Kentucky?

Today’s blog topic covers the validity/invalidity of a legal “urban legend.”  I’ve been asked on a couple of occasions whether you can kill someone to prevent their suicide.  Usually this is asked in a skeptical tone, like “I heard from somebody that you can kill someone to prevent them from killing themselves.  That’s not true, is it?

The idea of justified “killing to prevent the death of someone trying to kill themselves” sounds pretty ridiculous at first blush.  Usually when you have a law that deals with suicide, the law is driven heavily by “public policy” concerns.  Lawmakers and regulators often try to keep in mind what sort of ramifications the law will have on the general public – what the law will encourage the public to do or not to do.  Generally, and obviously, laws concerning suicide are created to prevent suicide.

There is a concern as to whether the public policy of suicide prevention would be satisfied if you allowed deadly force to be justified in suicide prevention.  Take the following couple of examples:

1) Rob commutes to Louisville every day from Indiana.  The bridge he typically travels has a crack; his commute is extended by an hour each way.  On top of this horrific nastiness, Rob finds out that R.E.M. just broke up.  A devoted R.E.M. fan, Rob is devastated and wants it all to be over.  He doesn’t care how it happens, and doesn’t want to leave a note.  Rob just wants to punch out.  Therefore, he gets a gun and prepares to off himself in his living room.  As Rob prepares to commit suicide, Rob’s neighbor walks in to borrow some sugar.  Neighbor is carrying a sidearm for no reason other than the fact that I need him to have a weapon in this hypothetical.  Would Rob be deterred from committing suicide if he knew Neighbor could kill him to prevent it?

2) Jan is crazy.  She loves her cats more than anything in the world.  When she isn’t updating her cats’ Facebook pages, or watching home videos of her cats, she likes to spend time with her cats.  Jan believes that her cats are going to die if she doesn’t give them some of her soul.  The only way Jan can give her soul to her cats is if she commits suicide in her living room, surrounded by the cats.  Jan laces her tub of Cherry Garcia with hemlock, and digs out a big spoonful as she sits in the living room surrounded by the cats.  Just then, neighbor walks in to borrow some sugar.  Neighbor is again, conveniently carrying a sidearm.  Would Jan be deterred from committing suicide if she knew Neighbor could kill her to prevent it?

In the first hypothetical, the answer is no.  Rob would not be deterred from his suicide attempt because he just “wants it all to end.”  Suicide is just a means to an end for Rob.  If his end is met by other means, Rob still accomplishes his goal.

However, Jan is a different story.  Her suicide is a ritual, to be performed for a specific purpose.  If the ritual itself were to be disrupted, she would not accomplish her goal.  Knowledge that Neighbor could and would kill her to prevent the ritual would provide an incentive for Jan to stop the suicide attempt, and maybe try it again later.  In the meantime, a mental inquest warrant may be able to get Jan some much needed therapy.  By this rationale, Jan’s death may be preventable by implementing a law that justifies deadly force to prevent suicide.

But for better or worse, that’s not what our law does.  KRS 503.100 controls prevention of a suicide or crime, and it states (in pertinent part):

 (1) The use of physical force by a defendant upon another person is justifiable when the defendant believes that such force is immediately necessary to prevent such other person from:
(a) Committing suicide or inflicting serious physical injury upon himself; or
(b) Committing a crime involving or threatening serious physical injury to person, substantial damage to or loss of property, or any other violent conduct.
(2) The use of deadly physical force by a defendant upon another person is justifiable under subsection (1)(b) only when the defendant believes that the person whom he seeks to prevent from committing a crime is likely to endanger human life.

As you can see, subsection (2) reserves the use of deadly force for situations arising under subsection (1)(b), which excludes “suicide or inflicting serious physical injury upon himself.”  So the answer is “No.  In Kentucky, deadly force is not justified to prevent suicide.”

I know that was a lot of build up for a relatively short and straightforward answer, but I'm feeling froggy* today, so I jumped.

If you have killed someone in order to prevent their suicide, you need a good Louisville homicide lawyer.  Call one of the experienced homicide lawyers at Gruner & Simms, PLLC.  We practice in Louisville, Lexington, Frankfort, Elizabethtown, and the surrounding areas.  Your initial consultation is free, so call 502.618.4949 or visit www.grunersimms.com today.  Results.  As fast as the law will allow.

*Also known as "squirrly" in some circles.

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