Penal Code Section 401
As California law stands today, helping someone commit suicide is a felony. You could be prosecuted and be sentenced up to three years in prison. Usually where we see these coming is where a family member who is sick, is dying, or it's already clear the person is dying and they're suffering and the family obviously wants to help them tin any way that they can, and a lot of times the individual who is suffering is asking that they die and family wants to go along with their wishes and again, help them in any way they can, but technically, if you help somebody or you assist them or encourage them in any way to die, in the State of California you can be prosecuted for a felony crime under Penal Code Section 401.
Of course, the authorities have to find out that you assisted them in some way and that they didn't take their own life or there wasn't some natural cause of death. You get into these issues all the time and if you remember, Dr. Jack Kevorkian was assisting people in committing suicide and he was arrested multiple times in various states who do not allow individuals to assist in committing suicide. This is definitely an area where it's a questionable law and a lot of times, in my experience, law enforcement really isn't getting involved with this unless they absolutely have to.
Once they determine what the cause of death is, if they determine that the cause of death, through the coroner or through their own investigation, was another person, even if it's a family member assisting that individual and killing themselves, then they're probably going to investigate it, talk to witnesses, write up the police report and then they'll just turn it over to the prosecutors, who are the attorneys in Los Angeles county and throughout California, who are responsible for prosecuting crimes. The prosecutors will probably assign the case to one of their people and they'll give them specific instructions. I'm sure they have a policy on which Penal Code Section 401 violations they file and which they don't. They probably don't' file them all. It probably depends on the circumstances of the case, how they feel about the case. Usually the higher-up authorities may get involved with the District Attorney's office and make the decision whether a criminal charge is going to be filed.
If a criminal charge is filed, then obviously, you or your loved one is entitled to representation and all the facts need to be put in front of the prosecutor and the judge and even to a jury, if necessary. But, I think the key to these cases is getting your side of the story across – getting the person's side of the story across who was suffering so the prosecutors can really get a feel for what type of a case you're dealing with here – what type of a person you are – why you acted the way that you did or why your loved one did what they did. As long as there's no sinister purpose behind what's going on – to collect insurance money or some other bad purpose – the prosecutors are human too. They're people to, but they also have their marching orders and they also have their policies in Los Angeles, California, for example, on how the handle these cases.
So, you have to be aware of this. Your attorney has to be aware of it and we have to work within these policies to get you a fair resolution of the case because if you've landed on this website and you're being charged with assisting somebody in committing suicide and they're using Penal Code Section 401, you need an attorney like me who understands how to deal with these types of cases, who understands the hierarchy of the District Attorney's office in Los Angeles county and throughout California, how they handle these cases, what motivates them and when they will basically try to work something out and protect your record and keep you out of jail just because of the surrounding circumstances.
Don't assume anything. In order to get the best possible defense or to get the best possible mitigating information in front of the District Attorney's office, sometimes it takes somebody like me who has been doing it a long time, who knows who to go to, knows who to talk to, knows what to say and knows what will move these guys in a favorable direction on your behalf.